In a single-elimination baseball playoff game, it's always helpful to have good pitching - particularly in the late innings.
McQuaid and Livonia had that going for them on Saturday afternoon in postseason games, and it was a big reason why both Clarence and Fredonia's seasons are over.
McQuaid needed eight innings to defeat Clarence, 5-4, in the Class AA Far West Regional. Earlier in the day, Livonia held off Fredonia, 5-3, in Class B play.
The Knights and Red Devils played a back-and-forth game through four and one-half innings. Clarence had leads of 1-0 and 4-2, only to see McQuaid come back to tie it, 4-4. In the bottom of the fifth, the Red Devils got a runner to second base with one out, and the top of the order coming up. Knights coach Tony Fuller went to his bullpen, calling on Hunter Walsh.
"Their one through five hitters were swinging the bats very well," Fuller said. "We had planned no matter what the situation to bring Hunter in. He was a fresh arm. Back in April, he threw six shutout innings against them, so we knew he had some success against them."
"He was going curve ball, curve ball, curve ball," Clarence coach Dave Smith said. "When you do that, the fast ball comes on you real quick."
Walsh struck out the first five batters he faced. He pitched three and two-thirds innings, allowing no runs and one hit - the only ball that left the infield in that span.
Meanwhile, the Knights scratched out a run in the top of the eighth. Nick Tomei had a bunt single, stole second and went to third on an error, and scored on a single by Ben Beauchamp.
"What are you going to do?" Smith asked. "When you start the year and someone says you'll be Section VI champions and be in a 4-4 game in the seventh inning here, I'm going to take that. Sometimes you win these games, and sometimes you don't. They made one more play than we did.
"You play them 10 times, and we probably win five times and they probably win five times. And that's what makes the game so good."
Clarence had some good pitching as well. Nick Ciraolo went the distance, and he only had one major mistake in those eight innings - allowing a two-run triple in the fifth to A.J. Fina that tied the game. Ciraolo scattered seven hits in working quickly and efficiently.
"At the end of the game, it's heart-breaking," the senior said. "You think about those little things you could do to turn it around. But I'm proud of these guys."
"He's been doing it all year - throwing strikes and keeping the ball in play," Smith said. "It's been a great year, and he's been a big part of it."
In the opener, Fredonia figured to have its hands full with Livonia's Reid VanScoter, who pitched a no-hitter and struck out 21 in the Section V final against Hornell. The only two runners to reach base on him did so on passed balls on strikeouts.
The Hillbillies wasted no time in making a statement by putting up a run on two hits in the first three batters, and adding another run in the second. But VanScoter settled down from there, allowing only a single run in the fifth inning. He struck out nine in the game, six of them coming in the final three innings.
"I think we hit him better than anybody over the last two years," coach Vince Gullo of Fredonia said. "He's only lost one game in his career for a reason."
"I didn't throw the ball well, but I had a great defense behind me," VanScoter said. "My fastball didn't have as much pop as it usually does. Pitchers have to adjust the whole game. The second time through the lineup, I had to make some key adjustments that really helped me through the game."
The Hillbillies put the leadoff man on base in both the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings, but they couldn't follow up with more offense to put the tying run in scoring position.
Livonia's game-changing moment on offense came in the second inning. With runners on first and second, John Smith of the Bulldogs looped the ball down the right-field line for a triple. Smith scored on a sacrifice fly by VanScoter moments later, and Livonia had the lead for good. The Bulldogs added single runs in the fourth and fifth.
Seven different Fredonia players had hits, with Lucas Voss recording two to go with two RBIs.
McQuaid and Livonia move on to next weekend's state final four in Binghamton. Clarence and Fredonia might need a little time to look back and smile about their outstanding seasons.
"We faced four great opponents to win our section," Gullo said. "Wilson had a stud pitcher, Tonawanda was a league champion, Alden was loaded and Roy-Hart was loaded. We had a tough road ahead of us."
"It's really difficult to plod your way through this, because you're always going up against great teams," Smith added. "If you don't make the great plays and get the big hits, that's what happens."