Portville Eliminates Bears In ‘C’

Frewsburg’s Payton Dustin is congratulated by teammates Draven DeJesus, right, and Trent Lewis, left, after hitting a home run during Thursday’s Section VI Class C semifinal against Portville at the Frewsburg Sports Complex. P-J photo by Scott Kindberg

FREWSBURG — As Eric Haglund raked the pitcher’s mound at the Frewsburg Sports Complex at the conclusion of the Section VI Class C semifinal baseball game Thursday evening, most of his players sat in the dugout.

In silence.

They didn’t want to leave.

But Portville, the No. 3 seed and the defending sectional champs, used a pair of three-run innings — one early, one late — and strong pitching by Mario Pascucci to down the second-seeded Bears 7-4 and set up a showdown with No. 1 Gowanda in Saturday’s sectional final at Diethrick Park in Jamestown. First pitch is set for noon.

“(Gowanda coach) Tim Smith and I are really good friends,” Portville coach Mike Matz said. “We talked today, I texted him during the game and I’m sure we’ll talk tonight and talk tomorrow. I’m sure we’ll be friendly Saturday morning and then by Saturday game time we’ll want to rip each other apart, but by Saturday afternoon we’ll be friends again.”

Early on, the friendly reunion didn’t look as promising as Frewsburg’s Maddox Sheesley’s two-run single gave Frewsburg (17-3) a 2-0 lead after the first inning.

But the Panthers (18-2) scored three times in the second inning off losing pitcher Garrett Brink, helped by a pair of errors and an RBI single by Cole Keesler.

As it turned out, miscues in the field and free passes were the Bears’ undoing.

Frewsburg did tie the game in the fifth in dramatic fashion as senior Payton Dustin hit a one-out home run to left off Pascucci. It was Dustin’s first of two hits on the day.

“He hasn’t hit a ball like that all year,” Haglund said. “It’s his last home game and he does something like that. I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

But the Bears’ lead was short-lived.

Nik Manroe reached on an error to lead off the sixth inning, Drew Langdon singled and Pascucci walked to load the bases, ending Brink’s time on the mound. Aidan Gruber came on in relief, but the sophomore walked the next two batters to force in a pair of runs. Chase Haglund, the third pitcher of the inning, retired the next three batters, but one — Pascucci — scored on a fielder’s choice to push Portville’s lead to 6-3.

The Panthers tacked on an insurance run in the top of the seventh, courtesy of an RBI single by Langdon. Armed with a four-run lead, Pascucci gave up a one-out single to Dustin, who was balked to second, stole third and scored on a throwing error. But the Portville left-hander never lost his cool and retired the final two batters to send the Panthers to the final against Gowanda.

“(Pascucci) was on our Far West Regional team last year and he won a sectional title on our soccer team, so he’s been in big spots,” said Matz, who saw his team shut out Gowanda in the sectional final in 2022 and lose in 2021. “He doesn’t get flustered. … He’s a kid who is easy to root for.”

Coach Haglund had plenty to be happy about despite the loss.

“I’m super proud of the kids,” he said. “We were the ‘sleeping giant,’ and we blew expectations out. Nobody thought we were the team we were going to be. The kids worked hard in the offseason a ton and they proved it. We went on to Myrtle Beach, earned some respect in South Carolina and came back here (and did well).

“The season’s done right now, but for most of these kids it never ends. … We’re mostly made up of 10th-graders. We’re young and I look for fireworks in the future, you know what I mean?”


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