The Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs pulled off a dramatic comeback rally in game one of their playoff series with the Amsterdam Mohawks to take an unexpected 5-3 win in 11 innings on Friday night at Shuttleworth Park.
The DiamondDawgs lead the best-of-three series one game to nothing.
Amsterdam was one strike away from victory a couple of times in the ninth inning but Mohawk Valley rallied to tie the score and force extras. Tyler Heck (Union) delivered a clutch based-loaded single to center off Chase Williamson (Auburn) with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to drive two runs as Mohawk Valley tied the game at 3-3.
Then it was David Del Grande (Sacramento State) who came through with a two-run double barely fair down the left-field line to score two more in the top of the 11th and give the visiting DiamondDawgs the comeback victory.
It was a little more of the same for Mohawk Valley who dramatically qualified for the playoffs in the last two games of the regular season. The DiamondDawgs had back-to-back must-win games on Tuesday and Wednesday and rallied from eighth inning deficits twice while getting help elsewhere in the league to snag the fourth and last playoff position. Their exciting and near miraculous run just carried right over with an even more dramatic finish in the post-season opener.
This game featured a little bit of everything. It began as a great pitchers' duel through the first seven innings between Amsterdam's Rocky McCord (Auburn) and Mohawk Valley's Cameron Sorgie (U. Albany) who matched each other zero for zero.
It almost wasn't 0-0 into the seventh though. Both teams had runners thrown out at home and both pitchers had to work out of nasty jams a couple of different times.
Amsterdam took the initial lead in the bottom of the seventh inning on an infield single by Ed Charlton (NJIT) giving the Mohawks a 1-0 advantage. Scott Heath (Maine) blasted a two-out double to right to start the rally and then Keaton Flint (Sacred Heart) kept the inning alive by reaching on a third-strike wild pitch which set up Charlton's grounder in the hole good enough to produce the game's first run.
Amsterdam's Flint tried to score on a Giuseppe Papaccio (Seton Hall) hit to left but Eric Helmrich (Marist gunned him down with a nice tag by Diamond Dawgs catcher Jonathon Scott (Bryant) who barely got back to nick Flint trying to dodge around him.
Mohawk Valley came back to tie the game 1-1 in the eighth manufacturing the tying run. Joe Carcone (Bryant) singled, was bunted up to second, moved to third on a wild pitch by Amsterdam pitcher Connor Kaden (Wake Forest) and then scored on a single to right by Del
Amsterdam re-took the lead again in the bottom of the eighth on an important rally against three DiamondDawgs relievers. Zac Colby (Faulkner, Ala.) and Jeff Limbaugh (Parkland) both drew walks and then Brian Ruby's (Binghamton) single loaded the bases.
Against Mohawk Valley closer Sal Lisanti (Bryant), pinch-hitter Matt MacDowell would be hit in the foot with a pitch to force in the tie-breaking run and give Amsterdam lead 2-1. Scott Heath (Maine) hit a long-fly to center that was deep enough to drive in another on a sacrifice-fly.
Then Keaton Flint singled to center but Mark Stuckey came up large for the DiamondDawgs as they threw out the second consecutive Amsterdam runner at the plate with Brian Ruby's hard-slide driving him into a tangle with the catcher Jonathon Scott who was somehow able to hang onto the ball in the awkward collision.
Amsterdam led 3-1 in the ninth but Mohawk Valley's outfielders throwing out runners at home in the seventh and eighth would prove to be critical.
Chase Williamson came on to try to close it out in the ninth and easily recorded the first two outs. But then the bottom of the lineup rallied to tie the score as Williamson struggled with his control. Tom Valichka was hit by a pitch when Williamson was one strike away from winning the game and the crowd was cranking up the noise-level. Jonathon Scott delivered a single that just bounced into center to keep it going and then Joe Carcone was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
With the tying man at second base in the form of Scott, Tyler Heck delivered his big single to center. With a 1-2 count and Amsterdam one strike away yet again and the crowd worked into a frenzy with excitement, Heck came up with the clutch hit to spoil the party for the #3 nationally ranked Mohawks.
Charlton was trying to come up with the ball quickly as he charged in with hopes of throwing out Scott at the plate to win the game. But the ball hit off of Charlton as he was possibly trying to hurry the play and Scott was able to score without a throw. If Charlton fields the ball cleanly it likely would have been a very close play at home and the throw may have been the game-winner for Amsterdam.
Instead, the Mohawks and DiamondDawgs were tied at 3-3 going into the bottom of the ninth. Amsterdam threatened in the bottom of the ninth against Lisanti beginning with a leadoff single by Charlton who was bunted up to second by Papaccio. But after Zak Colby was intentionally walked, Lisanti pushed the game to extras with a strikeout of D.J. Hoagboon (U. Albany) and a pop-out of Jeff Limbaugh.
Williamson walked a couple of batters in the 11th, Stuckey and Scott. And with two outs a wild pitch advanced them to second and third. After Heck was intentionally walked, David Del Grande delivered the game-winner bounced down the third-base line just beyond the reach of Brian Ruby at third for Amsterdam. He ranged over and was able to get a glove on the ball but the hard-bouncer got past him and rolled away allowing two runs to score.
Lisanti stayed on for his fourth inning of the game to shutdown the Mohawks in the 11th and get the win.
Chandler Shephard (Kentucky) who was perhaps the league's top pitcher this year starts for Amsterdam Saturday night at Mohawk Valley in a must-win game for the Mohawks. If Amsterdam is able to even the series at one game apiece then they will play the deciding Game 3 on Sunday night at 7:05 at Shuttleworth Park.