BINGHAMTON - For the second year in a row, the Pine Valley Panthers ran into a dominant pitcher in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D baseball semifinals.
And like 2012, the Pine Valley came up two wins short of a state title with a 4-0 loss to Fort Ann on Saturday.
Fort Ann pitcher George Lehoisky allowed just one hit, struck out 11 and walked two.
Early on, Pine Valley was getting solid contact against Lehoisky, but all the hits went right to a position player.
"He is just a senior leader," Fort Ann coach Dane Clark said. "He had great command today. He threw his curveball on any count and kept them off balance. He is a slow starter. His curve didn't get a good break until the third inning. That's when teams get to him - in the first and second inning."
"If we could have got one hit early and someone on base to change the momentum a bit, I think it would have been huge," Pine Valley coach Chris Buczek lamented. "That's what didn't happen today. All playoffs long, we had that one hit that changed the momentum. We just couldn't flip it today."
The Cardinals threatened early as Siena-bound shortstop Joe Foran reached on a walk and stole second with two outs. Lehoisky tried to help his own cause with a blooper to right field. However, Pine Valley right fielder Josh Kilburn made a sliding basket catch for the third out and preserve a run.
Of Fort Ann's four runs, three were unearned as the Panthers committed three errors. The scoring started in the third inning as Garrett Bailey scored on an infield single from Lehoisky and Tyler Mattison scored on a sacrifice fly from Chris Jackson.
Errors cost the Panthers another run in the fourth inning as Seth Godfrey reached on a bunt single and scored on an error. The Cardinals almost made the score 4-0 in the inning, but a botched suicide squeeze allowed Pine Valley catcher Thomas Raiport to apply a tag on Nick Lehoisky.
"If we make those plays in the field, it's easier to look at the scoreboard and see 1-0 or 0-0 and keep plugging at at it," Buczek said. "That third error really hurt a lot. How many times in a baseball game does that happen? Most of the time the team who makes the most errors doesn't win. It was detrimental. We couldn't back it up with hits."
George Lehoisky had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning. The only blemish to that point was a fourth-inning walk to Winfred Nelson. In the sixth inning, Spencer Sticek hit a slow roller to the left side of the infield and beat out the throw from the third baseman for Pine Valley's lone hit.
While Lehoisky was cruising for Fort Ann, Tyler Swanson was equally impressive for the Panthers.
Swanson was charged with just one earned run and scattered five hits. He walked four and hit one batter.
"Words can't really put together what he did for us," Buczek said of his hurler. "For him to just dominate was huge. For their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters (Foran and George Lehoisky, respectively) be so great and the way he dominated them was impressive."
The Cardinals added their final run in the sixth inning as Nick Lehoisky walked and scored on a RBI sacrifice fly from Cameron Stark.
In the top of the seventh, Pine Valley's Lucas Trombley led off with a walk, but Lehoisky recorded a strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play before striking out Kilburn for the final out.
Despite the loss, the Panthers walked off Conlon Field with their heads held high, knowing they were part of a special season, once again.
"Magical, man," Buczek said when asked to describe the season. "A lot of things lined up the right way for us. For this team to win the Sectional title four years in a row and go 2-for-2 in the Far West Regionals is pretty exceptional. It was a lot of fun. I wouldn't mind doing this every single year."
It also marked the final game for seniors Nick Sandy, Trombley, Sticek, Kilburn and Swanson.
"I am going to miss them dearly," Buczek concluded. "I will remember the work and the time and all they had to deal with for me. I will remember all the fun we had the last three or four years, it's hard."