BINGHAMTON — No team prefers to be trailing in the later moments of a game, especially one as important as Saturday’s Section III Class C regional baseball final between Cooperstown and Tioga. But some teams respond better to adversity than others. Some teams can look at a three-run deficit in the seventh inning, like the one the Hawkeyes faced Saturday, and stay calm enough to put a rally together, and that’s exactly what Cooperstown did.
Trailing, 7-4, in the top of the seventh, the Hawkeyes scored four runs in the inning to take the lead and defeat Tioga, 8-7, and advance to the state semifinals for the second time in three years.
“When the kids came back to the dugout (after the sixth inning) I noticed no one looked like they wanted to pack it in,” Cooperstown coach Frank Miosek said. “They more looked like they wanted to get out there and get them (Tioga). Sam Bonderoff, my senior catcher, came over and said ‘We can do this guys, let’s not fold.’ And they didn’t.”
Cooperstown started the seventh with the top of the order coming to the plate.
Leadoff hitter Ryan Lansing flew out to center before sophomore Kendall Haney hit a double, his third of the day, to left-center field to give his team some momentum.
On a day that saw most Cooperstown hitters struggle to square up Tioga ace and St. Bonaventure commit Pierce Hendershot, Haney punished the righty for almost every mistake he made.
“I was looking fastball the entire game,” Haney said. “I didn’t want any of his curveball, because I knew it was pretty good. I wanted the fastball, and when he served it up to me, I tried to get a good swing on it.”
Haney finished 3-for-3 with three doubles and a walk in the win.
“He is one focused, technical ball player,” Misoek said. “He’s been playing so well lately. If you look at how he’s been hitting over the last five games, it’s unbelievable.”
Chris Ubner followed Haney with a fly out to center field, leaving Cooperstown with just one out remaining on its season.
The next batter, Ben Tafuro, reached on a RBI single that brought Haney home, and he advanced to second on a close play after an error by the first baseman.
Bonderoff followed with a walk, and an Alex Hascup RBI single made it 7-6 and forced Tioga to pull Hendershot after his 126th pitch of the afternoon, something No. 7 hitter Jesse Furnari said he welcomed as he stepped to the plate.
“Their first pitcher (Hendershot) was an incredible player, so I was happy to see something else,” Furnari said. “Facing a new pitcher that threw a little bit slower, I was just hoping to barrel it up and get on base any way possible.”
Furnari took two strikes against Tioga reliever Thomas Cook before squaring up a ball and sending it rolling down the third-base line. The ball snuck inside the bag, went off the glove of a diving third baseman and bounced into foul territory, bringing Bonderoff and Hascup home as the tying and go-ahead runs.
“I just wanted to put the ball in play and see what happens,” Furnari said. “I looked over and saw it going down the line and I was like ‘oh my God, we’re about to tie this game.’ It was really an incredible feeling. I didn’t know the second run was going to come around, so once I saw that the second run came in to score, it was amazing.”
“He (Furnari) has been our leader and main captain all year, and he’s always been clutch,” Haney said. “Everyone knew and believed he would come through for us there.”
The Hawkeyes still needed three more outs in the bottom half of the inning, and Miosek said he knew immediately he wanted Ubner out on the mound to protect his team’s lead.
“Once we got ahead, I told (assistant coach Matt) Hazzard ‘We’re going Ubner,’” he said. “I wanted him out there to close it out.”
Ubner, a sophomore, got the start on the mound for Cooperstown but was relieved by Haney after allowing three runs in just 1 1/3 innings of work.
“I think I was just leaving balls over the plate and short arming pitches, and they’re a good team, so they were hitting it when I would leave it out there,” Ubner said. “I had a feeling I’d be coming back in. I just wanted to stay calm and try not to do too much.”
Because he stayed in the game, moving to third base in the second inning, he was eligible to come back out to pitch.
He retired the side in order, forcing two pop outs before striking out Christian Weaver to end the game and send teammates running out of the dugout to mob both he and Furnari in celebration.
Cooperstown started the game by taking a 1-0 lead in the first thanks to a RBI double from Ubner.
Ubner kept the Tioga offense off the board in the first, but allowed three runs in the second before Miosek brought Haney on to pitch.
Cooperstown tied the game at three in the third thanks to a two-RBI single from Bonderoff, and each team pushed across another run before the sixth.
With Haney still on the mound for Cooperstown and the score tied at four, he walked Weaver and gave up a towering two-run one-out home run to Hendershot that cleared the 330-foot sign in left field.
“I was mad at myself because I couldn’t throw the off-speed stuff for strikes that at-bat so I had to throw the fastball and he sat on it and put a good swing on it,” Haney said.
That home run was the end of Haney’s day on the mound, and another Tioga run came off relief pitcher Eric Deysenroth to set the table for Furnari’s heroics and Ubner’s redemption on the mound.
“All these guys are competitive and supportive,” Miosek said. “They never point a finger at someone and say ‘why did you screw up?’ They just do the best they can and cover for their teammates. That’s what is different about this team. Not every team is built like that, and this is a special group.”
Haney pitched 3 1/3 innings, allowing two runs and striking out three.
Lansing, Bonderoff, Tafuro, Hascup and Furnari each finished with a single for the Hawkeyes.
Cooperstown (19-4) travels to Maine-Endwell High School to play Section XI champion Pierson at 5 p.m. Friday.
“We have a lot of momentum now moving forward,” Haney said. “This whole team has a lot of confidence right now after this one and we need to try and keep that going.”
Cooperstown 8, Tioga 7
Cooperstown ….. 102 010 4 – 8 9 2
Tioga ….. 030 103 0 – 7 8 3
Chris Ubner, Kendall Haney (2), Eric Deysenroth (6, W), Chris Ubner (7, S) and Sam Bonderoff. Pierce Hendershot (L), Thomas Cook (7) and Mason Booser.
2B: Haney (C) 3, Ubner (C), Derrick Barto (T), Mason Booser (T).
3B: Derrick Gage (T).
HR. Pierce Hendershot (T).