When you’ve spent your entire season confounding expectations, you might as well go right on doing what you’ve been doing. This year, the Sawyers don’t seem to want to say goodbye, stampeding through the playoffs including two straight 11th hour wins that put them into this weekend’s state final four.
The Sawyers are 21-3 on the year, a record so stellar it’s as though they’ve forgotten how to lose. At the beginning of the season, the team spoke of wanting to show the league that last year’s relatively lackluster performance was nothing more than anomaly. Mission accomplished.
What’s been so remarkable about this Saugerties squad isn’t just their amount of wins, but how they’ve managed to pull it off. The criticism of some successful teams is that they’ve never had to face a challenge, crushing their opponents at every turn. The Sawyers have certainly enjoyed their share of blowout wins, but they’ve also shown their mettle in the close ones. That has never been more true than in their last two wins, a pair of regional walkoff nailbiters that weren’t really over until they were.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Sawyers won the regional final in the bottom of the seventh, a 2-1 win at SUNY New Paltz against Maine-Endwell that propelled them into the Class A final four with a chance to prove what they’ve felt all season long: That they’re the best team in New York.
“Our focus going in is to win,” said senior Matt Dittus. “We’ve made it this far, there is no doubt in my mind that we can’t take home the state title.”
Down 1-0 early in the second inning, the Sawyers struck back in the home half of the sixth when Kevin Lezette’s bases loaded walk brought Dittus home for the tie. Saugerties had managed to scatter just three singles against opposing pitcher Reid Van Woert, but in the seventh they finally broke through in a big way.
Bowie Matteson’s leadoff single that glanced off the glove of Maine-Endwell’s shortstop set the stage, and Alex Lindsay followed with a single down the left field line. Zack Ball’s sacrifice bunt advanced the runners, and the bases were loaded when Dittus was given an intentional pass.
For three straight games, stretching back to the sectional title game where the Sawyers trailed 2-1 against Red Hook before exploding for 10 runs in the top of the seventh, the wins have come with late heroics. Three straight games where even the most ardent fan of the team must have been questioning whether the ride was about to end. Three straight games and the Sawyers have won them all.
“For some reason, our team keeps our composure in these games,” said Jordan Baschnagel. “I’ve never been a part of anything like this. A different guy comes through for us every game.”
With the bases loaded, Darren Lareau singled to left, bringing Matteson home and sending the Sawyers into the state final four, with a semifinal matchup against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake at Binghamton’s NYSEG Stadium at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 11.
“It felt fantastic to win that game, the best feeling in my life,” said Lareau after the win in the regional final. “I think we have the team to win it all.”
Ball was equally effervescent.
“It was exhilarating,” he said. “By far the most exciting moment of my life.”
11 of the 15 players on the opening day roster are seniors. Their high school baseball careers will be over in either one or two games, depending upon how things go this weekend. If it’s all the same to the Sawyers, they’d just as soon close it out with a win.
“We want to bring home that state championship,” said Eli Riozzi. “It means a lot to us and we appreciate all our parents’, fans’ and community’s support. It’s amazing see everyone get behind us.”
Saugerties is a baseball town, and this year’s Sawyers have given them everything they could have hoped for. Now, they’re just two games away from winning the kind of recognition they feel it theirs for the taking.
“I love our chances of moving forward,” said Lindsay, a senior pitcher who kept the Sawyers in the regional semifinal against Tappan Zee before Baschnagel picked up the 5-4 victory in the 8th. “We have proven that we can win any kind of game; close games, blowouts, and everything in between.”
Every moment from the sectional win on has entered this Sawyer team into the annals of history. It was their first sectional title in five years, yet even if the team wanted to get there when they came together for their first practices with snow still on the ground, they kept their expectations manageable.
“Before the season started, Coach (Steve) Below told us he had ‘no expectations’ of our team,” said Lindsay. “He just wanted us to play as best as we could and see how far we would go. So, no, we were not thinking we would get this far until late in the season when we looked at all our success.”
“To be honest, I did not think we would make it this far,” he said. “Our goal was to win sectionals, but that hasn’t been done since 2006. I knew it was possible but I knew it was going to be tough. By the end of the regular season, I felt like we had a chance to do something special.”
Now, of course, the Sawyers are on the verge of completing one of the team’s most successful seasons ever. They’ve already achieved that goal, but two more wins would cement it.
“I always love playing for the Sawyers, because I know this school has had great baseball teams in the past,” Lareau said.
Lindsay has also viewed this season on the Sawyers as something special.
“I really don’t know how to explain it,” he said. “You would have to be on this team to truly feel what it means to be a Sawyer. We are as tight-knit as anyone out there. We are literally a family. It’s amazing to be able to wake up in the morning and be able to say you have practice or a game today. It’s the highlight of my day. This team is everything you want out of a team. Serious when you need to be and also the funniest group of guys you will ever meet. You never know what will happen on a Sawyer day.”
Dittus said there’s something intangible about the connection the Sawyers have had all season long, and it’s a quality that should give fans of the team something to look forward to as the final four gets underway.
“This team has a bunch of guts,” he said. “We always put ourselves in a position to win and we maintain our composure late in games. We have a never say die attitude and we believe in ourselves.”