FREWSBURG - The Cassadaga Valley Cougars bear all the hallmarks of a good, old-fashioned baseball team, relying on mental toughness, strong and durable pitching, defense, moving runners with bunts and, of course, aggressive baserunning.
It's a style that to many coaches has lost its luster; but that will never be the case for Cougars coach Joe Mistretta.
"That's the way my dad (Tom) taught me how to play the game," he said. "He was a huge influence on me. He taught me how to manage like this. He was a great player, a great manager and a great man, and this is the way he did it."
Cassadaga Valley’s Matt Hallowell slides home safely to complete a successful suicide squeeze attempt by teammate Andy Ellis in the fifth inning of Wednesday’s Division 2 baseball game at Frewsburg. Awaiting the throw is Bears’ catcher Trevor Spicer. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
Cassadaga Valley’s Tim Bender had two hits to lead the Cougars’ offensive attack. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
Mistretta's eyes well up as he speaks of his father, who passed away two years ago, but he can feel at ease in the knowledge that on Wednesday he and his Cougars undoubtedly made his father proud.
Sticking to the blueprint bestowed upon him all those years ago by Tom, Mistretta guided the Cougars (12-6, 10-2) to a 9-5 victory over perennial powerhouse Frewsburg (11-7, 9-3), clinching for the squad in red and white a share of the Division 2 crown (with Portville) for the first time since 1974.
That's 39 years.
"I feel great for the kids," Mistretta beamed. "They battled all year long. We didn't have a great hitting team, but we got good pitching, took advantage of mistakes and were very aggressive all season.
"And that's what happened today."
It certainly was.
Thanks to a sharp eye by the Cougars' hitters at the plate - they had, by game's end, drawn 10 walks - Cassadaga Valley was blessed with an abundance of baserunners, giving them the opportunity to put plenty of pressure on the Bears' defense.
"(Aggressive baserunning) is their game," Frewsburg coach Jay Grann said, "and, generally, we don't give into it and they don't have enough baserunners to really do it. But Joe's an aggressive coach, he likes to run, he likes to bunt and he likes to squeeze and the best way to take him out of that is not to give him free baserunners."
Along with the walks, Cassadaga Valley also took advantage of five Frewsburg errors, including one errant throw into second base following a Matt Heath single that allowed Heath to deliver an inside-the-park home run in the sixth inning.
The Cougars loaded the bases in the first inning on three walks, and chasing starter Bryce Raymond from the game, after taking the early, 3-0 lead when the Frewsburg catcher misfired on his pickoff attempt at first base. The throw sailed into right field and all three Cassadaga baserunners came around to score.
"That's huge," Mistretta said, "especially when you're on the road. To come here and in the first at-bats jump right on them and make them play catch up, that makes a big difference."
Grann agreed, "Anytime you walk the bases loaded, (it's tough). They got three runs in the first without even hitting the ball out of the infield."
Frewsburg answered with two runs in the bottom half of the inning, but that would be as close as the Bears could get.
After a shaky start, Cassadaga Valley pitcher Matt Hallowell bore down, finishing with the complete-game victory to go with four strikeouts and three walks.
"Hallowell really gutted it out," Mistretta said. "We don't go deep into our pitching staff and he probably threw a little bit more than he should have, but he squeezed a few more (innings) in there and did it some way, somehow."
With Hallowell dealing - only Brett Johnson, who went 2-for-3 with an RBI and three runs scored, would record multiple hits - the Cougars were free to work on their usual game plan against reliever Tage Johnson.
Cassadaga Valley extended its lead to two runs, 4-2, by the end of the second, and then three by the end of the third as Andy Ellis laid down a suicide squeeze just before Hallowell, who from third base was going on the throw, slid safely across home.
Twice more Mistretta called the suicide squeeze, and once more it worked.
"We kept the pressure on them the whole game, and when you put pressure on people that's when they make mistakes," Mistretta said.
The Cougars put the game away in the fifth, scoring three runs on two errors and another squeeze play at the plate.
Tim Bender led the winners with two hits in three at-bats, a run scored, a run driven in and two stolen bases. Hallowell followed with three runs scored, Heath had two hits and two runs scored and Ellis connected for two hits.