Capozzi’s Relief Carries Gowanda Past Wolfpack
GOWANDA — John Ondus and Blake Herman pitched the lion’s share of the innings for Gowanda’s baseball team last season.
But this spring, with both of them available to pitch very little — or in Ondus’ case not at all — the Panthers had to look elsewhere for time on the mound.
On Thursday, freshman Carter Capozzi saved Gowanda’s season and sent the Panthers to their second straight Section VI Class C championship game.
Capozzi relieved Alex Pachucinski and threw four innings of four-hit ball, striking out four as No. 1 Gowanda beat No. 4 Clymer/Sherman/Panama 12-6 in semifinal action at Gowanda High School.
“He was huge, but this has been him all season long. This is not the first time he’s done it … he’s been just a stud out there,” Gowanda head coach Tim Smith said. “He’s a freshman on the roster, but he’s pitching like an upperclassman out there.”
Next up for the Panthers is a noon Saturday date with No. 3 Portville, which beat No. 2 Frewsburg 7-4 in Thursday’s other semifinal. The title game will be a rematch of last year’s sectional final when Gowanda was two-hit by Maxx Yehl in a 9-0 loss.
“It was a goal to get there and a goal to win. If it happens to be Portville, so be it,” Smith said. “We’ll come and show up on Saturday, and play the game.”
The teams traded big innings early Thursday as the Panthers led 7-5 before Capozzi entered and steadied the ship. The tall right-hander took the mound after Panthers starter Alex Pachucinski hit Wolfpack leadoff hitter Austin White to open the top of the fourth inning. Bryce Hinsdale, the first batter Capozzi faced, laid down a bunt and Herman, Gowanda’s catcher, collided with third baseman Tyler Smith allowing everybody to be safe on the play. After another sacrifice bunt pushed the runners to second and third, Capozzi got out of the inning with a strikeout and a flyout to left field.
“It’s about having confidence in guys and we have the utmost confidence in him in a big situation,” Coach Smith said. “He’s been outstanding.”
Clymer/Sherman/Panama was able to get runners on base in each of the final three innings against Capozzi, but only managed one run on White’s two-out RBI single in the top of the fifth inning.
In the sixth, Capozzi got out of a first-and-third jam with a pop-up to Herman, and in the seventh he pitched around a one-out single with a flyout to right field and a groundout to short to end the game.
“Capozzi kept them off-balance, he did a really good job mixing up pitches and hitting spots,” Clymer/Sherman/Panama head coach Jake Marino said. “Blake did a really good job behind the plate framing balls. Hats off to them.”
Gowanda jumped on top with a seven-run bottom of the first inning that featured six walks and a hit batter. Logan Ruff walked to force in a run, Madden Lay was hit by a pitch to force in a run, Herman walked to force in a run and Pachucinski capped the uprising with a two-run single.
“Blake is one of the most feared hitters in Western New York for a reason. I don’t know if the game plan was to pitch around him, but what it does is set the table for us,” Smith said of Herman, who walked four times and scored twice. ” … It’s discipline on his part to take some of the pitches because I think he wants to go for a lot of them, but he’s putting the team first.”
All told, Clymer/Sherman/Panama pitchers walked 13 and hit two batters.
“We played a really good team, the guys knew that coming in. I think they tried to hit the edges a little bit too much,” Marino said. “They jsut didn’t have their best stuff today. They battled through it and played a really good game.”
The Wolfpack, a New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D semifinalist last season, scored five runs in the top of the second inning. Dylan Michael led off with a triple to right field and Blake Kopta followed with an RBI single. After a bunt single, Kayden Beckerink reached on a fielder’s choice and White walked to load the bases.
“What we talked about with our guys is that we can’t walk guys,” Smith said. “If you walk guys it turns into runs.”
Pachucinski nearly got out of the inning with a strikeout for the second out, but Gabe Roth hit a two-run single and Trent Burchanowski hit a two-run double to make it 7-5.
“One of the things we’ve talked about is persevering through the tough times, the tough innings, tough pitches,” Marino said. “Everything changes throughout a baseball game. They stuck with it the whole time. It’s a tough group of kids.”
Pachucinski got through the third inning unscathed, but when he hit White to open the fourth inning, Smith turned to Capozzi, who ended up sending Gowanda to this weekend’s championship tilt.