NEW HARTFORD — One down, one to go.
Whitestown Little League All-Stars inched closer to the organization’s third trip to the New York State Tournament with a 4-3 victory over Saratoga during the opening game of the Section 2 best-of-three series Saturday at New Hartford Little League Field.
To earn the hard-fought victory, Whitestown had to dig deep early, then hold on with clutch pitching and defense to take the advantage.
Whitestown starting pitcher J.J. Roberts struggled mightily in the second inning, allowing three runs on four hits and a walk while watching his pitch count balloon to 46.
However, Roberts, with the help of some nice defense, minimized the damage and the District 10 champs answered immediately with four runs in the bottom half of the inning to grab a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“That was key because a lot of times a team will have a letdown like that and kind of implode,” Whitestown head coach Garrett Zyskowski said of his team’s answer in the bottom of the second.
“Heads started to drop a little bit, but that inning snapped us right back into it and we finished out strong.”
Roberts threw 32 pitches in the second inning, but settled in nicely and managed to finish a strong 5 1/3 innings to earn the victory.
“My teammates really helped me and I knew we would come back,” said Roberts, who allowed six hits and struck out two. “We’ve come back from bigger deficits than three.”
“We have our other No. 1 pitcher tomorrow in Tony Dorozynski and we know he’s definitely going to do good and we all believe in him,” Roberts said. “So, this was amazing to get the first win. Now they have to win two and we only need to win one.”
Coach Zyskowski called on his son, Ben, to close out the game. After allowing a double to the first batter he faced, the southpaw delivered by inducing a popup to second basemen Tyler Thorngren for the second out before earning the save in style with a game-ending strikeout.
Roberts had three hits, and third basemen Mike Stilwell roped the ball all three at-bats and finished with two singles and a lineout for Whitestown, which tries to close out the Section 2 title at 2 p.m. tomorrow at Saratoga Little League Field. Game 3, if necessary, would be held at 5:45 Tuesday back in New Hartford.
Stilwell was happy to swing himself out a mini-slump.
“I had a really rough past few games,” Stilwell said. “So, I knew I had to come back sometime and had to do it quick. The first game is so important. J.J. pitched a great game and we know they’ll come back fighting tomorrow, so we have to be ready.”
In the top of the second, Saratoga got things going with back-to-back singles by Christian Mello and Hank Parobeck. After a flyout, Dan Klochaney singled back up the middle to drive Mellow home to open the scoring.
Following a walk that loaded the bases, leadoff Mack Harris ripped a hard grounder down the third baseline that Stilwell gathered on his knees and touched third for the forceout. Parobeck scored to make it 2-0, but the damage couldn’ve been worse if not for the nice defense by Stilwell. Saratoga extended its lead to 3-0 as Hunter Fales’ soft-liner to right drove in Owen Blaisdell before Roberts pitched out of trouble.
In youth baseball, a tough inning can easily snowball. Whitestown’s players remained positive and that mindset paid off in the bottom half of the inning.
With Saratoga starter Ronan Rowe struggling with his control, Whitestown pounced to grab the lead. Dorozynski started things by drawing the first of four walks in the inning. Stilwell and Roberts followed with singles to close the gap to 3-1.
Seth Stevens and Zyskowski worked back-to-back walks to make it 3-2. Chris Jennings then drove a high flyball to left that was dropped, allowing Roberts to score the tying run. With the bases loaded and still nobody out, Thorngren drew a walk to score Stevens with the go-ahead run.
“I knew we could do it,” Stilwell said of the comeback. “Positive attitudes win games as much as hitting home runs and other stuff.”
Saratoga manager Matt McNamara called on his son, Thomas, to get his team out of the jam before things got totally out of hand. The younger McNamara expertly worked out of trouble with an infield popout sandwiched around two strikeouts to keep the Section 11 champs in the game.
The rest of the game featured solid pitching and nice defense. Roberts cruised through middle innings, retiring eight straight before Fales singled to right with one out in the fifth.
Whitestown’s defense, led by Dorozynski, took care of the rest as the rangy shortstop corralled a hard-hit grounder by Rowe, tagged second and gunned to first for an inning-ending double play.
McNamara continued to work out of jams to put up zeros. He stranded two in the third and others in the fourth and fifth to give his team a chance heading to the top half of the sixth.
Starting the sixth inning just three pitches from the 85-pitch limit, Roberts got another defensive gem by Dorozynski, who bankhanded a two-hop bullet by Rowe and rifled to an outstretched Jennings for the first out.
With Roberts over the limit, Zyskowski came in to face the imposing Mello, who gave Saratoga hope by driving a one-hopper to the wall in right-center for a one-out double. That was as far as Mello would advance as a popout and strikeout put Whitestown in the driver’s seat in the series.
Sunday should be another tight game with both teams having its ace on the hill as Whitestown’s Dorozynski and Saratoga’s Mello are ready to roll.
“It was really a one-inning game,” Coach McNamara said. “We were sloppy in the field, much more than usual, but that’s going to happen with 12-year-olds.
“We have to win tomorrow, and if we do, we get to play again … it’s not complicated. We’ve heard they have a kid that’s pretty good and we have a kid that’s pretty good, so it’s probably going to be a tight game. So we’re going to see what we can do.”
Zyskowski realizes the importance of getting that first win in the series. But, he is also aware it doesn’t guarantee anything.
“We’re in a good position right now, Zyskowski said. “We have our No. 1 starting and have our 3, 4 , 5 and everyone else ready to go. It’s going to be a battle tomorrow.
“It was huge to get the first one. In a three-game series it shifts the momentum our way and puts the pressure on them. They know they have to come back here for another game if they want to win. I’m proud of the kids. We got one of the three and we’ll plug away and try to get the second.”
If they can get that second win, they’ll join the 2006 and 2014 Whitestown teams as state tournament competitors.
NYS Section 3 Little League All-Star Tournament
(Best-of-3 Series, Game 1)
Whitestown 4, Saratoga 3
Saratoga 030 000-3 6 2
Whitestown 040 00X-4 6 0
W: J.J. Roberts. L: Ronan Rowe. S: Ben Zyskowski. 2B: Saratoga, Christian Mello.