VESTAL — Mark Armstrong and the Clarence baseball team had a storybook weekend, right down to the logo on his high school baseball cap.
The storybook just came up one game short.
Clarence lost in the New York State Public School High School Athletic Association Class AA state championship game, a fate shared by Williamsville South in Class A. Fredonia won the Class B title while Pine Valley lost in the Class D semifinals.
The Red Devils rode the arm and bat of Armstrong to a 5-2 state semifinal victory over Arlington of Section I (Westchester County) at Binghamton University. Clarence then lost the state title game, 4-1, to Baldwinsville of Section III (Syracuse area).
Armstrong was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds Friday in the third round of Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft. Clarence’s uniform cap uses the same style of ‘C’ as the Reds, and Armstrong put forth a major-league performance in the semifinal, striking out nine during a six-hitter while he hit a go-ahead, two-run home run.
“It ended unfortunately for us, but we can say that we were one of two teams that were playing on June 8,” said Armstrong. “I’m sad it’s over, but at the same time I’m glad it happened. I wouldn’t have wanted it to happen with any other boys, and I’m glad to go out with these guys.”
In the championship game, senior Mark Materise had a solid start, and Clarence had hits and baserunners, but it never was able to get a big hit against Baldwinsville senior Pat Merryweather, who threw strikes early on his way to 10 strikeouts. Clarence left two runners on base for three straight innings at one point. Clarence trailed, 1-0, for most of the game before Baldwinsville added three runs in the fifth, two on an infield error.
The Red Devils got one back in the top of the seventh on an RBI single by Ryan Jelonek.
“His curve was good and for the most part, he threw strikes,” Clarence coach Dave Smith said of Merryweather. “We had nine hits. We’ve won a lot of games with fewer hits than that. We just couldn’t get a big double when we needed it.”
Clarence trailed, 2-0, in the first game after Arlington scored twice in the third. Clarence tied the score on a Jelonek RBI single in the bottom of the third and a sacrifice fly by senior Chris Ossa in the fourth.
In the fifth, with senior Bryan Jost aboard after a leadoff walk, Armstrong waited for his pitch, then hit a line drive over the left-field fence.
“I really was just waiting for a pitch I could handle,” he said. “The first two I couldn’t get a hold of, so I waited. The next one was right in my wheelhouse. I just put a good swing on it, tried not to overdo it, and tried to let the bat do the work.”
Clarence finished 18-3.
“I’m just glad to know that I was a part of this, truly,” said Armstrong. “I’ll always look back at this. No matter what happens with me, no matter how high I go, or how far I make it, I’ll always look back and know that this team was one of the greatest teams I’ve ever played for.”
At Binghamton’s NYSEG Stadium, home of the Binghamton Mets, Williamsville South rode the pitching of senior stalwart Damian Powers to a 2-1 Class B semifinal victory over John Jay Cross River of Section I.
Powers had nine strikeouts in a one-hitter and had an RBI single in the fourth to tie the game at 1-1. South put three hits together to take the lead in the bottom of the sixth.
In the championship game, South fell, 5-3, to undefeated Bayport-Blue Point of Section XI (Suffolk County, L.I.), which ended 26-0.
South (19-3) trailed, 5-2, going to the seventh and got one back in a rally that fell short.
“I knew we weren’t going to go down quietly, because we haven’t all year,” said South coach Kraig Kurzanski. “Every time we’ve been down, we’ve puffed our chest out a little bit and tried to fight back, and the same thing happened today. We have good senior leadership, and we have kids that care about baseball and our school and our community.”
“We both ended up with seven hits, but they had seven timely hits,” said Kurzanski, who will lose nine seniors from his roster of 18. “We fought like heck. I’m just proud of our guys.”
At MacArthur Park in Binghamton, Pine Valley was held to one hit in a 4-0 loss to eventual Class D champion Fort Ann. A two-out infield single by Spencer Sticek in the sixth inning was the only hit the Panthers could manage.
“We haven’t seen a pitcher that fast in a couple games, we had a little bit of trouble adjusting,” said Pine Valley coach Chris Buczek.
Pine Valley hit the ball hard, but several line drives were right at the outfielders. Pine Valley starter Tyler Swanson scattered four hits, but his defense was charged with four costly errors. Two of Fort Ann’s four runs were unearned. The Cardinals scored two runs in the third inning, and one each in the fourth and sixth innings.
Pine Valley, winner of the last four Section VI Class D titles, finished with a 15-6 record.