The No. 1 seeded Clarence Red Devils demonstrated all season they were a difficult team to subdue. In Friday’s Section VI Class AA baseball semifinal, they proved that when handed opportunities on a silver platter, they’re practically unbeatable.
Fourth-seeded Niagara Falls committed six errors, including a pair in the first inning, en route to an 11-4 defeat to the host Red Devils, subsequently putting a bitter end to the Wolverines’ season.
“You know what, you give a great team — Section VI championship from last year — you give them six errors, you can’t come back from that and that’s what we did today,” Falls skipper Joe Contento said.
In the bottom half of the first, the Wolverines had two opportunities to turn two, but on back-to-back occasions with runners on first and second, they failed to connect. The Red Devils cashed in with four runs in the first inning, despite a determined showing from Falls senior starter Chris Kirkland.
Although the Wolverines were underdogs on paper, senior Vinny Perricelli said his squad was not over-matched. The mistakes, he explained, are what cost Niagara Falls a shot at a Class AA title shot Tuesday at Sal Maglie Stadium.
“When you don’t make plays, you’re not going to win ball games,” Perricelli said in the dugout after the game. “We should have won this game, I think, hands down. We make the plays, we play our game, we win this game. They’re not a better team than us. We beat ourselves today.”
Perricelli and the Wolverines’ frustration certainly didn’t end there. Clarence right-hander Mike Elwood kept the Falls’ lineup guessing through seven innings.
The junior knuckleballer held the Wolverines to just six hits, tossing eight strikeouts in a complete-game effort.
“He’s fun to watch,” Clarence head coach Dave Smith said. “You have absolutely no idea what he’s going to throw and that’s what makes him effective. His knuckleball is a legitimate knuckleball.”
Elwood received a strong showing of run support as well. After the first-inning debacle, the Red Devils kept pouring it on. Clarence added five more hits in the second, including shortstop Zach Lauricella’s one-out double which plated two more runs.
Second basemen Adam Urschel finished 4-for-5, including a pair of runs and an RBI. Third baseman Matt Creenan contributed with two runs as well, while going 2-for-3 at the dish.
“We got some guys that are tough to get out and it makes it even tougher when (the opposition) makes errors,” Smith said. “One of the things we’ve talked about all year along was the idea of tacking on runs. If you do get four in the first, it’s not going to be enough.”
As it turned out, the Red Devils needed every run. The Wolverines had a pair of prime opportunities to weaken Clarence’s lead, which would have made it a whole different ball game.
With two outs and runners on first and second in the fourth, Perricelli took a fast ball to the kidney, and as a result, loaded the bases for junior Cam Carney. But a weak ground ball to the pitcher ended that chance on a dime.
That same misfortune continued in the sixth with runners on first and second. Tom Martineau blasted a one-out bomb to the gap in right center. The two lead base runners, however, were not on cue, consequently leading to Tom Hanna being thrown out at home and no runners scoring.
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t make the plays,” Perricelli said. “And then there’s a little thing called momentum — that’s what we needed to get us going.”
Contento insisted his team fought to the final pitch.
“We still battled,” he said. “It was a good season and I’m proud of my team this year.”