NIAGARA FALLS — Mark Armstrong was so convinced he could get his Clarence baseball team to states, he told his mom in February he would not being going to the prom in June because he would be on a bus to Binghamton.
Like most of his pitches, he was right on target.
Armstrong will have a date this weekend, but he’ll be spending it with his teammates at the New York State final four in Binghamton. Armstrong pitched a three-hitter and got plenty of run support as the Red Devils beat Victor, 13-1, in the Class AA Far West Regionals played Tuesday at Sal Maglie Stadium.
“I told my mom, hopefully, I’m not going to be there; I’m going to be on a bus, and it’s happening,” said Armstrong.
Clarence, which had just three hits in its sectional final against Lancaster, had no trouble putting the bat on the ball against Victor. The Red Devils pounded out 12 hits, sending 10 men to the plate in both the third and fourth innings.
Clarence (17-2) advanced to the state semifinals, where it will play Arlington — a 10-3 winner over Minisink Valley — on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Binghamton University. If the Red Devils win, they will play for the state title at 4 p.m.
It will be Clarence’s first trip to the final four since 2009. Coach Dave Smith told his players it will be a really fun three days in school and it will be fun on Saturday. “Their response was, ‘we need to win two more ball games.’ They’re going to enjoy it and have fun, but they are very, very focused.”
After a shaky first inning in which he walked three of the first six batters he faced and fell behind, 1-0, Armstrong settled in, finishing with 91 pitches. “It was a pretty rocky start,” Armstrong said. “We came out huge and strong with the bats and that really helped me a lot.”
He gave up just two hits the rest of the way and had 1-2-3 innings in the second, third, sixth and seventh. Victor’s Tommy Wagner drove in Victor’s only run with a single to right to score leadoff batter Jake Redding.
“We were fortunate enough to get through that inning giving up just one run,” Smith said. “It kind of calmed our guys down. Even though we were down, we all knew we were fortunate and we were able to settle in. You know Mark isn’t going to have seven innings like that. He’s not going to allow guys on base all the time.”
The Red Devils responded by sending 10 men to the plate in both the third and the fourth innings. They took the lead for good at 4-1 in the third, getting RBI hits from Mark Materise and Evan Harof, and put the game away with six runs in the fourth and three more in the fifth.
Alex McGlue had a three-run double in the fifth. The 13 runs are the second-most Clarence has scored this season. Armstrong, Materise, Bobby Florio, Ryan Jelonek and Matt Nawrot scored two runs each.
“We had a little trouble in the first inning, but we’ve fought back a lot this year,” Materise said. “We know we can hit, we trusted our bats, we trusted our defense. We came out and obviously we hit the ball pretty well. I thought the best feeling was after we won sectionals. Now to know that we’re going to states, it’s the best feeling ever. We work hard every day in practice, so when you achieve a goal, it’s just so satisfying.”
Victor was unable to use Wagner, who is undefeated, on the mound. He started the Blue Devils’ sectional semifinal on Thursday against Rush-Henrietta and threw a three-hitter in Monday’s 1-0 win over Fairport in the final.
Victor starter Pat Metzger was able to keep Clarence off the board for the first two innings, but after he was chased with one out in the third, Victor used four more pitchers after him in trying to find someone who could get outs.
The Blue Devils (22-3) had reached the state finals the last two seasons, winning the crown in 2011 after eliminating Clarence in the regionals.
A state title isn’t the only thing Armstrong has to look forward to as he’s hoping to be taken in this week’s baseball draft, which will be Thursday and Friday.
“Hopefully Thursday or Friday I’ll get a call,” Armstrong said. “What will top it off is winning a nice championship. Hopefully the call will come on Friday and I’ll be on the bus with coach Smith and I can celebrate that with the boys, and it will be a special moment for all of us.”