NIAGARA FALLS – Lancaster pitcher Ben Monti’s temper almost got the better of him but instead of taking out his frustration on the man in blue he took it out on the team in blue.
Anger morphed into utter joy later as the Legends won their second Section VI Class AA championship in three seasons by defeating Niagara Falls, 6-4, before an estimated 600 at Sal Maglie Stadium.
Monti had a big hand in the win, bulldogging his way into the sixth on a day where he wasn’t pitching his best. He swung a mean bat, too, going 3 for 3 with a pair of doubles, a triple, a run scored and an RBI. Lancaster’s five-run fourth turned a 2-1 deficit into a lead it never relinquished. Junior Collin Reformat retired six of the seven batters he faced for the save including striking out the final two.
“The kids did it,” Legends coach Mark Dalfonso said. “I’m just so proud of them.”
Monti almost missed being part of the rally as the senior voiced his displeasure at a pitch called a ball, almost showing up the umpire. The key being “almost” as catcher Ben Closson and a coach quickly intervened, with the ump showing remarkable restraint and not tossing Monti from the game.
“He’s been picking me up all year,” said Monti of his catcher. “He just knows how to calm me down, calls time at the right time. … I didn’t have my best stuff but I made it work. My relief pitcher made it work and we got the win.”
“Ben’s one of those kids who’s very intense kid, a very quiet kid,” Dalfonso said. “When things weren’t going his way he got a little upset, but that’s what our pitching coach is for. Our coach calmed him down and he wound up doing a nice job.”
The Legends fed off that emotion to take control. Lancaster next plays the Section V champion Saturday at Frontier Field in Rochester at a time to be determined. The Legends haven’t advanced to the state Final Four since the late 1990s.
Monti did his part after Lancaster used a number of pitchers in Thursday’s 10-inning semifinal win over Williamsville North. Monti scattered nine hits and worked around three walks to give his team not only innings but a fighting chance to win.
The Legends did just that with their fourth-inning eruption as Max Giordano’s triple brought home Connor Duck, who worked a lead-off walk, with the tying run. An error by pitcher Justin Beyer while trying to field a bunt enabled Giordano to later score the go-ahead run.
Joe Dombrowski’s single plated Kevin Walter. Monti capped the uprising with a gift double as a sharp grounder at the second baseman took a crazy hop off the lip of the grass and sailed over Vincent Colosi’s head into shallow right. Monti crushed the ball his first two at-bats, the reason the outfield played him deep.
The loss continued a trend by the Wolverines (12-7), who have beaten either Orchard Park or Lancaster but not both in the same postseason. Falls, which hasn’t won a sectional title in baseball since merging with defunct LaSalle High School in 2000, had its chances to score – getting the lead-off batter on in each of the first six innings.
In the first, Charles Zabaldo’s single was misplayed into a two-base error, a glorious scoring chance. The next batter, though, tried to duck out of the way of a pitch near his head, except the ball struck Matt Grace’s bat and landed in fair territory just up the third base line. With Zabaldo breaking home, he was in no man’s land as Closson fielded it and ran him back toward third, where he was tagged out.
In the sixth, the Falls had bases loaded and no outs but pushed only two across as Lancaster’s defense came up big.
“Matt Grace stung the ball right at the left fielder and then they’re making plays and that’s the game right there,” Wolverines coach Joe Contento said. “It just went their way today.”
Lancaster hopes that continues.
“We’ve had stuff like that going on all year,” Monti said. “Today was just another day. It shows we were meant to be here and meant to win.”