NIAGARA FALLS — Come high school playoff time, when league rivals meet in the playoffs after one team has swept the season series from the other, it is inevitable that the saying will be uttered by someone at some point: It’s tough to beat a team three times in a season.
A confident Lancaster team knew all about that, and it prevented loss No. 3 to Orchard Park thanks in large part to a couple of other incarnations of that number. On the third pitch of the game, Joe Preziuso blasted a home run. The third batter of the game, Ryan Stekl, did the same.
Those two first-inning solo homers got Lancaster off to a great start in the Section VI Class AA final, and Stekl and Preziuso also provided fine work on the mound that – despite a close call in the bottom of the seventh – helped lead it to a 4-3 victory and its second championship in three years.
“We’ve been working so hard all year, from December inside our field house until now, to win the championship, it’s just amazing,” said Preziuso, who also added an RBI on a sacrifice fly and came on for a one-inning save.
“We were talking about a good start before the game – its fun to joke about before the game, but when it actually happens, it’s like nothing else. ... We were prepared. We don’t let anyone beat us three times. We don’t let that happen. We knew it was going to be a tough game, we knew they were going to fight back, but we got it done.”
Said Stekl: “I was hoping we were going to come out with a start like that – but as soon as Joe hit that first home run and I hit that second home run, I knew we had the momentum to win the game. It’s good for me too, when I’m pitching, to get the lead early.”
An estimated 200 at Niagara Falls High Schools’ sparkling new turf field complex watched senior Stekl struck out seven in a strong six-inning performance as Lancaster built a 4-0 lead after four and a half innings.
Lancaster’s victory, however, was on the verge of slipping away down to the very last swing.
With Lancaster up 4-2 and an out away from the title, OP senior Dave “Bubba” Hollins blasted a home run to left over a tall fence some at Falls have dubbed “the Screen Monster” to cut the lead to 4-3.
Orchard Park got a walk and a single to put runners on first and second, but Preziuso retired OP sophomore Jeff Palczewski on a hard liner to center field that junior Ryan Ritter sped forward to snag it.
“I can’t thank Ryan Ritter enough, he’s been my buddy since Kindergarten,” said Preziuso. “I’ll relive that again and again.”
“That’s baseball,” said OP coach Jim Gibson, whose Quakers finish 18-3. “We hit the ball pretty good but not in the right spot.
“They outplayed us today. They came up with more plays, they hit the ball when they needed it and we made some uncharacteristic mistakes today, that we haven’t made, really all season, especially defensively. We’ve been airtight defensively, but not today.”
Lancaster (18-4), which lost to eventual state runner-up Clarence in last year’s final, has a week off until it meets the Section V (Rochester area) champion in the Far West Regionals Saturday at a Section V site to be determined.
“It feels great,” said Lancaster coach Mark Dalfonso. “Because this is our third year in a row getting here, and last year let me tell you it didn’t feel so good. The four games we’ve lost this year, we’ve beat ourselves.
“That’s what we told our guys: Don’t beat yourselves, just play your game. And that’s exactly what happened. We just played our game, and our pitcher pitched lights out.”