ROME — A long night at DeLutis Field was decided by one big inning.
Smith Post, which dropped a 4-1 decision earlier Tuesday to Whitestown that forced a winner-take-all game, bounced back behind a five-run sixth inning to down the regular-season champs 6-3 to claim their first District 5 title since winning back-to-back banners in 2013-14.
Logan DeLutis had two hits and three RBIs at the plate and earned the win on the mound by pitching 5 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits. Damon Campanaro and Ryan Marrello also drove in runs for Smith, which advances to the New York State Tournament July 27-31 at Murnane Field in Utica. Smith plays District 7 at 5 p.m. Saturday. Tournament host, Adrean (8-13), plays District 9 at 7:30.
“I’m very proud and love this group of guys,” Smith manager Ryan Hickey said. “I think the second game we lost to them 9-8 gave us some confidence. And then after we beat them 7-6 it made us feel when we see them walk out onto the field that we can play with this team.”
During the five-run explosion, Smith capitalized on four free passes and an error by Whitestown to break open a 1-1 deadlock. The only hit in the inning came by DeLutis, who drove in two of his three runs with a single to right that made it 6-1.
Joey Crossley led the way for Whitestown with three hits and had to move from second base to catcher in the first inning after Nate DePerno was forced to leave the game after hitting his head on the backstop attempting to slide for a foul ball.
“It stings right now because it didn’t end the way we wanted it to,” Crossley said. “Looking back, it was a great season. It’s tough, but we battled to the end. I wish it could of went our way, but it didn’t.”
Whitestown starting pitcher Josh Strzepek pitched five strong innings before being relieved after back-to-back walks to start the sixth.
Facing reliever David Antone, Smith’s Kyle Williamson advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt. After leadoff Riley Brawdy drew a walk to load the bases, Antone hit Damon Campanaro to bring in the go-ahead run. Marrello followed by hitting a liner to short left that was coralled by a diving Dom Fasolo, who quickly popped up and threw home, but not in time to get a tagging Ben Minicozzi.
Leading 3-1 with two out, a huge play in the game followed as Panuccio dove to snare a hard-hit grounder up the middle off the bat of Ethan Brown. However, the shortstop’s throw was ruled to have pulled first basemen Doug Rando off the bag. Rando then attempted to tag Brown and the ball popped loose, allowing Brawdy to score from second.
That play extended the inning and allowed DeLutis to follow with a two-RBI single that gave Smith a big cushion.
“You’re going to pay the price for that … absolutely,” Whitestown manager Paul Engelhart said of the sloppily played top of the sixth. “You need to play clean for 21 outs and we didn’t do that. What hurt was we walked the first two guys. That’s why I made the pitching change, but (Strzepek) pitched a great game up until that point and gave us everything we wanted. He pitched phenomenal.”
Whitestown put together a rally in the bottom of the sixth, as Joe Ruggiero singled home Antone and Panuccio to make it 6-3. Whitestown loaded the bases with two out before Hickey went to Aaron Simons in relief of DeLutis. Simons did the job, getting three-hitter Fasolo to popout to first to end the threat.
Leaving men on base was a recurring theme for Whitestown, which stranded 11 runners in the nightcap.
“There were a couple of plays maybe we could have made and gave up some runs,” Engelhart said. “We made a little comeback, but we had a lot of opportunities in this game and didn’t get it done. But that’s baseball.”
Holding a three-run lead, Whitestown got the start to the inning it was looking for as Jake Montrose singled to center. Simons didn’t panic and closed out the game a strikeout, a popout and another strikeout that sent the Smith bench charging onto the field in celebration.
“This feeling is amazing,” Marrello said. “It’s one of the best days of my life. There’s not a feeling like it.”
As they did in the opener, Smith got off to a nice start in the first by plating a run as Campanaro singled and came around to score on DeLutis’ base hit to left-center field.
Campanaro nearly doubled Smith’s advantagein the second, but Ruggiero got a great jump and was just able to track down a long fly ball in deep center that saved a run.
Whitestown continued the strong glove work in the third as Panuccio ranged deep in the hole and leaped to throw out Marrello at first for the initial out of the inning. Ethan Brown followed with a single to left, so the nice play by Panuccio staved off a possible big inning.
The home team knotted things in the bottom half of the inning on a leadoff double by Bryce Gnatek and RBI single by Crossley. Whitestown had first and second with nobody out with their three through five hitters coming to the plate, but DeLutis pitched out of it with a strikeout and a pair of fielder’s choice groundouts.
Smith (18-6) returned the favor in the top of the fourth, puting runners on second and third with one out before Strzepek struck out leadoff Brawdy on a close 3-2 pitch and then induced Campanaro to once again fly out to Ruggiero in center.
Ruggiero came up with yet another enormous defensive play to end the top of the fifth, charging a hard-hit liner to center by Preston Mecca, fielding it on a few hops and throwing a lazer to Crossley at home to cut down pinch runner Cole Donnelly.
“I was just hoping to make a good throw and do whatever I could for this team,” said Ruggiero, who gladly would’ve traded those plays for a victory.
“It happens in baseball, it’s a funny game,” Ruggiero said. “Playing with this team has been everything. It was a brotherhood and I’m going to miss them a lot.”
Whitestown (23-6) seemed ready to grab the advantage in the bottom of the fifth, loading the bases with one out, but DeLutis got Montrose to ground into a 4-6-3 double play – a very close play at first – to end the threat.
“I think throwing strikes was the biggest thing tonight,” DeLutis said. “That’s what I always strive to do when I go on the mound. I don’t really push to strike out hitters and blow fastballs by them, I try to throw strikes and trust my defense and that’s what I did today. Those double plays were huge.”
Hickey was very pleased with the start DeLutis gave his team.
“He’s been doing it all year and did a very good job of throwing strikes and making them put the ball in play and relying on his defense,” Smith Post’s second-year manager Ryan Hickey said. “That’s why he was able to keep his pitch count down and work into the sixth. He was able to change speeds a lot and kept them off balance a bit.”
Whitestown 4, Smith 1
Whitestown forced a deciding game by plating a pair of runs in both the fourth and sixth innings. The regular season champs finally broke through off Smith starter Justin Swavely in the bottom of the fourth on back-to-back RBI rips by Panuccio and Gnatek.
Panuccio knotted the score by lacing an RBI double to the left-field wall to plate Dom Fasolo, who led off the inning by working a walk. Gnatek followed with a liner to right field to plate Panuccio to give Whitestown a 2-1 advantage.
Whitestown then added two more in the sixth off Smith reliever Brawdy to give starter, Rando a cushion. Both runs were unearned as Panuccio started the inning by drawing a walk. Gnatek then laid down a sacrifice bunt, but the throw from catcher Brown was low and skipped into right field allowing Panuccio to take third.
Following a popout, DePerno drove home Panuccio with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1. Ruggiero then drove a hard single through the left side to make it 4-1 heading into the seventh.
Rando took it from there, cruising through the late innings, allowing just one hit over the final four innings, including retiring seven straight to close it out.
Smith lone run came in the top of the first as Brawdy drew a walk, moved all the way to third on a failed pickoff attempt overthrow and scored on a grounder back to the mound.
Rando threw 87 pitches in allowing just three hits, while striking out just two. Swavely struck out seven in five innings, allowing four hits and two earned runs.
Note: Whitestown’s 2011 team was the last District 5 squad to win a state title.
Whitestown 4, Smith 1
Smith 100 000 0–1 3 1
Whitestown 000 202 X–4 5 3
W: Rando. L. Swavely. 2B: Whitestown, Panuccio.
Smith 6, Whitestown 3
Smith 100 005 0–6 6 0
Whitestown 001 002 0–3 8 1
W: Logan DeLutis. L: Josh Strzepek. 2B: Whitestown, Bryce Gnatek, Joey Crossley.
Records: Whitestown 23-6. Smith 18-6.
2019: Smith Post
2018: Utica Post
2017: Sherrill Post
2016: Whitestown Post
2015: Utica Post
2014: Smith Post
2013: Smith Post