Gowanda Falls In Far West Regional

Gowanda catcher Blake Herman receives a throw and attempts to tag out Batavia Notre Dame's Jaden Sherwood during the fifth inning of Saturday's NYSPHSAA Class C Far West Regional at Frontier High School. P-J photo by Matt Spielman

HAMBURG – About midway through Saturday’s game, Gowanda head coach Tim Smith made a comment in his dugout that the luck of the Irish just might not be on the Panthers’ side.

The remark was made after a wind-aided fly ball and a couple of calls didn’t go his team’s way and Batavia Notre Dame – the Fighting Irish – took a 3-0 lead in their New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C Far West Regional at Frontier High School.

In the end, it was Batavia Notre Dame’s plate discipline that would send the Fighting Irish to Binghamton for the state semifinals.

After Gowanda battled all the way back to tie the game 5-5 heading into the seventh inning, the first three Fighting Irish batters of the seventh walked before Hayden Groff hit a sacrifice fly to drive in the eventual winning run as Batavia Notre Dame advanced to its first state final four since 2014 with a 6-5 victory.

“We’re prepared for this. (Gowanda) is a very good team, they hit the ball and put it in play,” Batavia Notre Dame manager Rick Rapone said. “We made a couple of miscues today which we don’t normally make, but … I never had any doubt to be honest with you.”

Gowanda's Blake Herman and John Ondus (7) celebrate Ondus' fourth-inning solo home run during Saturday's NYSPHSAA Class C Far West Regional at Frontier High School. P-J photo by Matt Spielman

Trailing 5-3 entering the bottom of the sixth inning, Gowanda managed to tie the game off Fighting Irish reliever Ryan Fitzpatrick. Madden Lay led off with a single up the middle and was pinch-run for by Carson Huch. After Drew Shull’s sacrifice bunt, Brayden Smith laid down a perfect bunt up the third-base line to put runners at first and third.

“They battled. The second time through the lineup, our bottom guys got on and scratched a run across for us,” Coach Smith said. “The first time through it didn’t look very good, but the second time through they made some adjustments.”

Leadoff batter Blake Herman followed with a blast then nearly cleared the left-field fence for what would have been a 6-5 lead, but instead stayed in the park and went for an RBI single.

After a strikeout, John Ondus hit an RBI single to left field to tie the game, but Fitzpatrick got out of the inning with a grounder to third.

“Our pitching all year has kept us in it, Rapone said. “ … This is the most runs we’ve given up in a game all year.”

Gowanda first baseman John Ondus fields a groundball in front of second baseman Carson Huch during Saturday's NYSPHSAA Class C Far West Regional against Batavia Notre Dame at Frontier High School. P-J photo by Matt Spielman

Ondus, who hadn’t thrown an inning all year after being the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Division 1 Pitcher of the Year a season ago, took the mound to start the top of the seventh inning and walked the Fighting Irish’s Nos. 2-4 hitters, the last coming on a close 3-2 pitch.

“He’s been throwing bullpens and pitching in scrimmage situations. He has looked really good,” Coach Smith said. “We felt that, based on their lineup, if we got that chance to put him in for an inning, that’d be the move. It came to fruition and it didn’t work out today.”

Gowanda then turned to Tyler Smith, who induced the fly ball to right field that gave Batavia Notre Dame the lead before getting out of the inning with a strikeout and a grounder.

“It gives us a chance to hopefully scratch one across in the seventh and extend the game a little bit,” Coach Smith said of his right-hander getting out of the inning. “Tyler did a great job and gave us a chance.”

Panthers freshman Carter Capozzi singled with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning and stole second with two outs, but a hard grounder ended the game, leading to a Fighting Irish celebration between first base and the pitcher’s mound.

The Batavia Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate on the infield after the final out of Saturday's NYSPHSAA Class C Far West Regional against Gowanda at Frontier High School. P-J photo by Matt Spielman

“We hit the ball hard,” Coach Smith said of the final out, “it just didn’t get through.”

Batavia Notre Dame took a 3-0 lead in the top of the second inning off Gowanda starter Cole Herman. With two outs, Chase Cummings singled up the middle and after a walk, No. 9 hitter Jimmy Fanara hit a wind-aided double that fell in behind shortstop in front of two Panthers outfielders.

“It hurt. To end up putting up three runs on what we practice a lot, it’s a tough pill to swallow,” Coach Smith said. ” … Baseball’s a funny game. They were able to take advantage of that. It’s a little miscue and it turns into a potential difference in the game.”

Bryceton Berry started on the mound for the Fighting Irish and allowed just one hit through the first three innings before Ondus homered to center field to start Gowanda’s fourth inning.

“I felt pretty good that if Bryceton got us through the first two, we’d be OK,” Rapone said. “He wasn’t as sharp as he’s been, but he did enough. He did enough to get us to the point where our No. 2 can come in.”

Batavia Notre Dame added two runs in the top of the fifth inning. Fitzpatrick reached on a fielder’s choice for the first out and Jaden Sherwood singled to left-center field before Groff hit a two-run single.

The Panthers made it 5-3 in the bottom of the inning as Blake Herman reached on a dropped pop-up in front of home plate before Alex Pachucinski and Ondus walked. Herman then scored on a wild pitch before Tyler Smith drove in a run and reached on an error, but Berry got out of the inning with a strikeout and a groundout.

When Gowanda tied the game in the sixth, there was a feeling the Panthers would also take the lead, but Fitzpatrick did a good job of keeping the score even to give his team a chance to win it in the seventh.

“Actually, the scout that we had on (Ondus) was to be patient; he’s more likely to walk you than strike you out,” Rapone said. “Sometimes that strategy works, sometimes it doesn’t. Today it worked.”

Gowanda, which has played in four straight sectional finals, will graduate six seniors: Ondus, Cole Herman, Pachucinski, Tyler Smith, Shull and Andrew Barlow.

“These guys are my son’s age and a lot of them played together, a couple of them from 8 years old. I’ve seen these kids grow up. I’ve just been very proud of their work and their work ethic. … This is where they get to show it off a little bit, but they’ve worked so hard throughout the entire 12 months,” said Coach Smith, whose son Nolan is a senior at Hamburg High School. “It’s no mistake that we’ve made it to four sectional championships in a row and this is the group that did it. All of this wouldn’t be easy if it wasn’t for the assistants that I have with Brian Denea for 19 years and Ryan Boutelle for 14 years. Tanner Olson comes back after college every year and works with us and our JV coach Justin Fish, who came up with his kid and the JV group the last couple of weeks.”

NOTES: Batavia Notre Dame will play in the 2 p.m. semifinal Friday at Maine-Endwell High School. Saturday’s 10 a.m. championship game will be played at Binghamton University.


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