All season long, Briarcliff seemed like a team of destiny. The Bears had a lineup that can mash, a one-two pitching punch that had been on a roll and several veteran players who have played on the big stage before. But on Saturday at Conlon Field in the Class B state title game, Briarcliff ran into a team with a similar pedigree.
“This was definitely the two best teams in Class B – I thought it was pretty clear,” senior Paul Henshaw said of Oneonta after his team’s 2-0 loss. “They’re a good hitting team, and we’re a good hitting team. They have good pitching, and we have good pitching. But they made a couple more plays than we did.”
I thought that the Bears were loaded with senior talented, but Oneonta took it to a new level. Eight of the nine starters for the Section 4 champs were seniors, which resulted in a group that played near flawless baseball.
Ben Moxley threw a four-hitter, in large part thanks to some absolutely stellar defense behind him.
“(The defense) was on display today, and they played pretty darn good,” Oneonta coach Joe Hughes said. “Pitching and defense wins championships, and so I guess we get one.”
Henshaw got the start for the Bears, and nearly matched Moxley pitch for pitch. As the game speeded through three innings in just 28 minutes, Oneonta finally came up with a crucial run in the top of the fourth. Mike Calkins got a hold of one and deposited it over the right-center field wall to give Oneonta a 1-0 lead.
“That was a good pitch,” Henshaw said. “It was a low changeup. I was throwing the changeup to the lefties, and he just dropped the bat head on it and got it good enough. … I was trying to get ahead with a strike, but I guess it wasn’t low enough.”
“He got his pitch,” Hughes said. “We played our sectional championship game here a couple of weeks ago, and he hit a big three-run homer in that game. Maybe he likes this place. We’re happy to see him get a hold of one. He’s a big, strong kid.”
Oneonta added another run in the fifth on an RBI infield single from Chris Pindar, and that would be plenty of support for Moxley. The senior right-hander was extremely efficient, getting through seven innings on just 78 pitches.
“He was throwing strikes,” Henshaw said. “He was all around the zone, and he had a good offspeed pitch – it was like a slider-type thing, and he was throwing it for strikes on the corners, so it was tough to hit. We should have jumped on his fastball a little more, but they were making some good plays. You have to credit his fielders.”
Oneonta made some sparkling plays in the field; none more so than right fielder Mark Giallanzo’s bullet throw to end the sixth inning. Colin Orr, who was the only Bear with multiple hits in the game, laced a two-out single to right with Ryan Huegel on second. Huegel, who is one of Briarcliff’s fastest baserunners, sped home, but Giallanzo made a near-perfect throw.
“It would have made it a 2-1 game, we would have had a runner in scoring position and I would have been up,” Briarcliff senior third baseman John Fussell said. “It’s really tough. It was a heartbreaker.”
The Bears seemed to be making solid contact against Moxley later in the game, but his defense had his back.
“It’s deflating to have a good piece and then they run it down, or a rip and they block it up,” Henshaw said. “They were sharp out there, and that’s why they won the game.”
Henshaw ended up pitching a complete game as well on only 78 pitches (59 strikes). He pitched well enough to win, but Briarcliff couldn’t find a way to scratch any runs across.
“We didn’t hit in the second game, and that’s what happens,” Fussell said. “It’s baseball, and you can’t go out and kill it every game. Unfortunately, in the game that counted the most we didn’t have it.”
I can only imagine how difficult it was for these Briarcliff seniors to walk off of the field after losing in the state title game for the second consecutive season, but the mark that the leave behind is undeniable. Guys like Fussell, Henshaw and Orr made this team into one of the best in the state, and with the likes of Spencer Kulman, Lou Carrafiello and Huegel coming back, they will still be a threat next season.
“We had a great run, and I probably will look back and say that this was an awesome season,” Fussell said. “But in the moment, it’s disappointing. You want to walk out happy and you want to walk out with the win.”
Photos by Peter Carr/The Journal News