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College baseball: Jefferson CC squanders chance to clinch berth

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With a postseason berth squarely on the line, the Jefferson Community College baseball team had lot working in its favor as Mohawk Valley CC came to the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds for a key Region 3 Division III baseball doubleheader Saturday.

JCC knew two wins or a split would greatly aid its cause. The Cannoneers were at home for only third time this season. And two of coach John Northrop’s top starters were taking the mound.

In the end, none of that mattered as JCC lost both games. It failed to come up with the key hit during a 9-2 first-game loss to the Hawks. Then the most reliable starter, sophomore left-hander Eury Villalona, was touched for eight runs in the second inning of the nightcap and the bullpen coughed up a one-run lead in the top of the seventh inning as Mohawk Valley rallied for a wild 14-11 win.

JCC, 12-15 overall and 6-10 in regional play, now faces almost a must-sweep situation today when the same two teams play a doubleheader in Utica. The Cannoneers must win twice versus the Hawks (15-15, 10-10) to remain alive for one of the four Region 3 postseason berths.

“If we’re rained out, we’re done because we won’t have time for a make-up,” Northrop said. “We knew today was big, and we just didn’t play well enough to win.”

The Cannoneers left 13 men on base in the first game, and saw Mohawk Valley score eight runs in its final two at-bats to break open a 1-1 game.

In the second game, JCC trailed 9-0 after 2 1/2 innings. But a grand slam by sophomore Jason Hardie and a clutch two-out, three-run shot by freshman James Smith in the bottom of the sixth gave the Cannoneers an improbable 11-10 lead. However, the Hawks scored four times in the top of the seventh, including two unearned runs due to an error on a bunt.

“It’s been that kind of season,” Northrop said. “When we make a mistake, the other team always takes advantage. When we’ve been given opportunities, we can’t seem to get a big hit or make a big play. But I guess you get that with 23 freshmen on the roster.”

JCC wasted a solid start by Watertown’s Dustin Pond in the first game. Pond pitched into the sixth inning, allowing just five hits and was charged with three runs.

But the Cannoneers left the bases loaded in both the first and second innings, three more in the fifth and two in the sixth.

“It’s frustrating when you get that many runners on base and you can’t get them in,” said Watertown sophomore Kyle Simmons, who had three hits on the day. “We haven’t been able to get into any kind of rhythm at the plate with all of the rainouts.”

Northrop’s club has had 28 games postponed, and has now played 25 games. Last year at this time, it had completed 45 games.

“It’s been tough to set up the rotation and the bullpen because of all the off days,” Northrop said. “Our hitting has been sporadic because we haven’t had that many days outside all spring.”

Saturday’s second game may have been the ultimate heartbreaker. JCC looked down and out after Mohawk Valley touched Villalona for eight runs on six hits in the top of the second.

But Hardie, a catcher from Ajax, Ontario, hit a line-drive home run over the left-field fence with the bases loaded in the bottom of the third to give the Cannoneers new life.

Down 10-6 in the bottom of the sixth, JCC got a run-scoring single from Simmons and a sacrifice fly from Hardie to cut the deficit to 10-8. After an Elliott Martin walk, Smith, hitting just .196, drove an 0-1 fastball from Bryan McGuire for his first homer of the season, and suddenly JCC was in the lead.

But Northrop’s bullpen had been taxed, with four relievers used in the opener and another in the second game. So he was forced to call on freshman Arman Lakhani, who was supposed to start game 1 today. Lakhani gave up a run in the sixth, then walked the leadoff batter in the Mohawk Valley seventh before yielding a two-run single to Marcus Failing and a run-scoring hit to Bryce Patterson.

“There really wasn’t anybody left,” Northrop said. “But it probably shouldn’t have come down to that.”

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