WEST UTICA – In a game where both teams had moments when they could’ve hung their heads, both New Hartford’s and Tri-County’s ‘C’ All-Stars chose to fight back.
Fittingly, the game was decided in extra innings, as pinch runner Graham Jenkins scored on Liam Noonan’s grounder to second to give New Hartford a wild 14-13 victory in seven innings to claim the District 10 title.
New Hartford advances to represent District 10 in the sectional play-in game set for Monday. New Hartford will play at the Section 37 (North Country) champion.
Sam Beaton led the way for New Hartford, going 4-for-5, including a critical single in the seventh that moved runners into scoring position. Danny Head went 2-for-3 with two walks for Tri-County.
“It was definitely a nerve-wracking game,” Beaton said. “We gave up a couple of errors and walked a lot of guys, but we came back as hitters and got it done. It proved we can come back when we stay focused and don’t doubt ourselves.”
After squandering 7-0 and 11-6 leads, New Hartford found themselves trailing a feisty Tri County team 13-11 in the bottom of the fifth.
New Hartford plated a run in the fifth as Joe Mungari’s RBI-groundout brought in catcher Byron Thornley to close the gap to one. On the next at bat, New Hartford seemed to tie the game as Beaton hit a hard grounder that seemed to be headed through the left side. However, Head ranged to his right and made a perfect throw to first basemen Rocco Femia to nip Beaton and secure the lead heading into the sixth inning.
Tri County looked to add an insurance run in the top of the inning as Caden Walker drew a two-out walk, and Head greeted reliever Peyton Way’s first pitch by lining a rocket to left-center field. Walker raced around the bases but was called out on a close play for the inning-ending out. The relay from center fielder Johnny Vitullo to shortstop Beaton to Thornley had to be perfect … and it was.
In the bottom of the sixth, Noonan drew a leadoff walk and came around to score on a fielder’s choice grounder by Thornley. New Hartford had a chance to end things later in the inning, loading the bases with one out, but an unassisted double play by Owen Jones (third basemen) ended the inning and sent the game into the seventh.
Uncharacteristically, both teams had trouble finding the strike zone throughout the entire game. The teams combined for 29 free passes – walks or batters hit by pitch. New Hartford issued 19 of them, but still managed to survive.
Way, who earned the win, wasn’t about to make it easy for Tri-County. Despite hitting one batter, Way pitched a strong seventh, striking out the side and stranding Owen Jones, the go-ahead run, at second base.
“I was just trying to throw the ball down the middle, and if they hit it, just hope our fielders made the play,” Way said. “It was amazing to win this, especially in the championship game.”
In the bottom of the seventh, with light quickly fading, Mungari drew a leadoff walk. Head coach Joe Mungari put in Jenkins to pinch run for his son. Beaton followed by drilling a single up the middle for his fourth hit. With Jenkins advancing to third, Beaton moved up to second with one out and set up Noonan’s game-winning grounder.
“We knew from the beginning that we have a great group of kids,” Coach Mungari said. “A lot of credit goes to Tri-County. They played outstanding and kept coming back, but I’m proud of my team. They continued to fight and battled through adversity. It’s easy to stay positive when you’re ahead, but how you play when you’re down and things aren’t going your way shows the kind of team you have.”
Early on it seemed like it would be an easy victory for New Hartford as they took advantage of some errors to score seven runs in the bottom of the second to grab a 7-0 lead.
Tri-County never stopped believing and kept scratching and clawing to climb back into the game. The visitors scored two runs in the third to cut the lead to 7-2, and then took advantage of seven free passes to add four more in the fourth to close to within one run.
New Hartford immediately answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning to reclaim a five-run lead, but Tri County, continuing to capitalize on free passes, scoring seven runs in the top of the fifth to grab a 13-11 lead. The big blow in the inning came on Broc Barker’s three-run triple that made it 11-10.
“It was a good battle,” Tri-County head coach Mike Head said. “The biggest thing this year was we had six games and this was just the third for them. Our pitching was depleted and we still kept battling back. This is the second year in a row that we finished second, which is the first time ever for the program. It was our goal from the beginning to get back this year and win it. We were so close. I’m proud of these guys.”
The loss was difficult to take for the team. The star of the team, Danny Head, will remember the entire tournament and not just the final result.
“It was a wild ride,” Danny Head said.
New Hartford will celebrate winning the banner for a day or two before turning its focus on trying to win sectionals.
“We have a bunch of battlers and we’re going to represent District 10 well,” Coach Mungari said. “We’ll give it our best and hope to advance.”
District 10 ‘C’ All-Star Championship
New Hartford 14, Tri-County 13
Tri-County 002 470 0—13
New Hartford 070 411 1—14