Clutch Lakeland Tops Cornwall for 2nd Region 1 Title
Hornets Advance to 1st NYS Semi since 2010, Seek 1st State Crown Ever
SAUGERTIES – Folks at Cantine Field witnessed one of the finest pitching performances in the history of Lakeland baseball last Saturday when ace lefty Joe Vetrano matched the kind of performance former Hornets aces like Jonathan de Marte, Chris Moran, Anthony Eannacony, Bill Prezioso, Tommy Gonzalez and Dennis Robinson Jr. gave in their Lakeland heyday. Of course, there have been other Lakeland greats, but Vetrano, just a sophomore, did it on the type of stage only de Marte did, the kind of theatre that produced Lakeland’s second NYSPHSAA Region 1 championship when he fired the tidiest of one-hitters in Hornet history: An 85-pitch, complete game 3-0 triumph of Section 9 champion Cornwall.
Picasso himself couldn’t have painted the inside corner any better than Vetrano did, and it essentially took the bat away from Cornwall righties.
“I knew they weren’t going to turn on me, and I knew my teammates had my back wherever I threw the ball,” said Vetrano, who fanned 11 batters, walked just one and waited patiently for senior Captain Matt Schenck to come through with the game-winning, three-run triple in the top of the seventh. “It was just an amazing job by everyone, a total team effort. It’s amazing. Hopefully, we just keep going forward from here.”
Vetrano had little to show for his performance until Schenck came through with the biggest hit of the season, one that enabled Lakeland to live another day and advance to face Section 8 champion Wantagh at 2 p.m. Friday at Binghamton University. The winner will advance to the state finals on Saturday (4 p.m.) to face the survivor of Section 2 Queensbury vs. Section 5 Canandaigua at NYSEG Stadium, home of the Class AA Binghamton Mets.
“Schenck is my boy and I told him right before he went up there to pick me up and let’s go, baby,” Vetrano added. “I knew he’d have my back. I knew my team had my back, and I just knew he was going to do it. If coach gives me the ball next game, I’m ready. I’m doing it. I want the ball. We want to make history, why not? They said we were too young to win the section, and we proved them wrong. No one said we could do this today, and we proved them wrong, so why not go for it all now.”
Lakeland’s youth never showed and the mystifying run to the state semis is baffling, considering the Hornets (16-9) were the 12-seed coming out of Section 1.
“I’m in shock, to be honest,” said Lakeland Manager Bill Casey, who has reaffirmed the stability that was synonymous with this perennial power for more than 30 years under to Robinson brothers, Dennis and Mike. “We’re in the state semifinals. I don’t even know how to describe the feeling right now. But I’ll tell you this: What Vetrano did today was better than he was last week (against Byram), and that’s what makes him special. It was amazing. He just kept pumping the strike zone and working quickly, and then he waits for his team to come through in the seventh, and then comes out for the seventh and goes 1-2-3 like he did is phenomenal.”
The four-time Section 1 champion Hornets, who start just two seniors in the everyday lineup, had stranded one or more runners in every inning until #SchenckYouVeryMuch delivered the tailing line-drive to right field just beyond the reach of the outstretched right fielder, Tim Cartwright.
“Our whole team was hitting hard all day, and we were just waiting for that one hit to just land through to start a rally and it just happened to be me,” Schenck said. “It’s a great feeling. The whole team worked hard for this one and it’s really rewarding at the end to pull it off. We plan on going all the way now.”
Vetrano worked an otherwise effortless 1-2-3 seventh and the post-game dogpile ensued for the second Saturday in a row for a team with as bright a future as any in Section 1. The 6-foot-3 Boston College-bound hurler pounded the strike zone, painting the lower corner of the plate against righties and toying with lefties while throwing 66 of his 85 pitches for strikes, regularly tripping the radar gun at 87 mph. He struck out seven of the first nine batters he’s faced, including six in a row at one point.
When asked if his Green Dragons (19-4), who also lost to de Marte’s Hornets in the 2010 regional championship, had faced anybody like Vetrano this season, Cornwall Coach Tom Fanning answered rhetorically: “Have we ever faced a 6’4” lefty that throws almost 90 miles an hour and paints the corners like that kid did today? Uhm, no, and I hope we never have to again. Hard to believe he’s only a sophomore. We occasionally see some velocity like that, but he was tough and the umpire was very consistent calling that same strike, and he just sat on that inside corner to the righties and he just kept pounding that and hitting that same spot.”
Lakeland 2B Zach Cohen got the game-winning rally started when he reached on a throwing error by Cornwall shortstop Kyle Brady. Two walks to Eric Portella and Evan Berta loaded the bases and set the stage for Schenck.
“He’s our three hitter for good reason,” Coach Casey said. “Schenck has like seven or eight hits in these playoffs. He’s gotten hit after hit and he’s hit the ball hard. He swings the bat hard and he comes up big. That’s what senior leaders do.”
Very few have ever come up bigger in the history of Lakeland baseball, and that says it all.