Mohawk Valley closer Zach Vennaro (Mount Olive) and Jamestown catcher Christ Conley (Canisius) are among the top players to watch in the 2017 PGCBL Championship Series.
The 2017 Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League (PGCBL) Championship Series will pit the best from the West Division, the Jamestown Jammers, against the beasts from the East, the DiamondDawgs of Mohawk Valley. The best-of-three title series begins on Sunday, August 6, at 6:35 p.m., when the Dawgs host the Jammers at Veteran's Memorial Park in Game 1.
Starting Rotations (Regular season stats included)
Game 1 - Tyler Ksiazek (Monmouth); 4-1, 3.96 ERA, 50.0 IP, 47 K, 9 BB
Game 2 - Douglas Molnar (Wagner); 2-0, 1.71 ERA, 21.0 IP, 16 K, 1 BB
Game 3 - Joe DeSarro (Southern New Hampshire); 5-1, 3.77 ERA, 47.2 IP, 45 K, 21 BB
Game 1 - Isaac Meza (CSU Bakersfield); 1-0, 1.73 ERA, 26.0 IP, 20 K, 5 BB
Game 2 - Cory Blessing (Ohio); 3-0, 3.70 ERA, 34.0 IP, 23 K, 15 BB
Game 3 - Bradley Griggs (UTSA); 4-2, 2.50 ERA, 50.1 IP, 38 K, 25 BB
The Jammers and DiamondDawgs only faced each other once during the 2017 regular season. That game was on the night of June 24, when Mohawk Valley traveled to Jamestown and handed the host Jammers a 2-0 loss. Tyler Ksiazek (Monmouth), the DiamondDawgs' Game 1 starter for the league title series, began his season-ending four-game win streak that night by tossing 6.0 shutout innings, as he allowed just four hits and two walks while striking out one. Bradley Griggs (UTSA), Jamestown's scheduled Game 3 starter, pitched well but was tagged with the loss after giving up both runs on seven hits in 6.0 innings of work. Both of Mohawk Valley's runs came in the third inning, when Austin Pollack (Hofstra) smacked an RBI double and Clay Koniencki (Monmouth) drove him in with a run-scoring single.
Feels Like the First Time
The Jamestown Jammers are making their first-ever appearance in the PGCBL Championship in just their second year in the league. The Jammers have only been playing collegiate ball for three seasons, as from 1994-2014 Russell E. Diethrick Jr. Park was occupied by the MiLB incarnation of the Jammers. The New York-Penn League franchise was relocated prior to the 2015 summer season and the summer ball franchise has continued to use the moniker since. Jamestown's first-ever collegiate season was spent in the Prospect League, before making the switch to the PGCBL in 2016.
Twice As Nice
The Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs are chasing their second PGCBL Championship in the past three years. Just as they did this season, the DiamondDawgs upset the No. 1-seeded Amsterdam Mohawks to claim the East Division crown back in 2015, before sweeping the Victor RailRiders in two games to capture the league title. The last baseball team in Little Falls - collegiate or pro - to win a title prior to 2015 was the 1993 Little Falls Diamonds of the Northeast Collegiate Baseball League. From 1990-1993, the Diamonds won three championships in the Northeast Collegiate Baseball League.
Back for More
Mohawk Valley coaches Blake Nation and Steve Luby aren't the only two names on the DiamondDawgs' roster who are looking to win another championship ring. All-Star reliever Zach Vennaro (Mount Olive) was also a member of the 2015 title team. That year, he went 3-1 on the mound with a 3.25 ERA, 31 strikeouts and seven saves in the regular season. In 2016, he was superb as the team's closer, as he posted a 1.47 ERA with 30 strikeouts and saved nine games. In 2017, his third in the PGCBL, the Utica, N.Y., native was 1-1 with a 3.48 ERA, 28 strikeouts and eight saves in the regular season. Vennaro has also added two saves in three scoreless appearances in the 2017 playoffs.
Count on Christ
Christ Conley (Canisius) isn't your prototypical lead-off hitter, as the 6-foot-1 catcher weighs in at a bulky 230 pounds. While he may not be a speedster on the base paths, he is simply an on-base machine. In 190 total plate appearances in the 2017 regular season, Conley walked a whopping 51 times, which boosted his on-base percentage to a league-best .582. When you consider the fact that he also finished second among qualified batters with a .382 average and displayed outstanding power with five home runs - he also led the PGCBL with a .610 slugging percentage - Conley has proven to be perhaps the most feared batsmen in the league this season and is among the top Player of the Year candidates.
Entering the 2017 season, there had only been two players to hit for the cycle. However, that figure doubled this year, with one coming from Mohawk Valley's Russ Olive (UMass Lowell). The 2016 Newark Pilot returned to the PGCBL with the DiamondDawgs and was a force at the plate. Olive hit .324 with nine doubles, four triples and a league-high eight home runs. His 42 RBIs also paced the circuit, and he ranked fourth among qualified batters in the PGCBL with a .998 OPS. On July 11 against the Utica Blue Sox, the 6-foot-3 first baseman/corner outfielder finished 4-for-4, earning a base on balls in the first inning and doubling in the third, before legging out a triple in the sixth and smacking a solo home run in the eighth. In the ninth inning, he got the easiest of the hits needed, as Olive recorded a two-out single. He joins former Watertown players Larry Balkwill (Siena) and Matt Diorio (Central Florida), and 2017 Amsterdam Mohawk Chris Hamilton (Stony Brook) as the only four batters in PGCBL history to have completed the cycle.
East Division Dominance
The PGCBL's East Division improved to 6-0 versus its West Division counterparts during the 2017 All-Star Game, and its record in the title series is just as impressive. The East has won five of the previous six league championships, with the lone exception coming in the inaugural season back in 2011. The Newark Pilots captured the league's first-ever title in 2011, beating the Amsterdam Mohawks two-games-to-one. Since then, however, the Mohawks have won four titles (2012, 2013, 2014, 2016) and the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs hoisted the other trophy in 2015.
As always, fans following the PGCBL can follow all of the action with live stats via Pointstreak. To navigate to the postseason scoreboard, click here.