BINGHAMTON, N.Y. – All playoff losses are hard but Tioga’s fall to Cooperstown are the kind that stick.
The Tigers were up by three runs in the top of the seventh and sitting one out away from reaching the New York State Baseball Championships Final Four.
Cooperstown did a lot in that one out, though, scoring four runs to go ahead 8-7 and ultimately win the Central Regional contest.
“Credit to them, they battled back,” said Tioga coach Kevin Evanek. “It was just a great game.”
Both teams ran through the gamut of emotions and it wouldn’t be playoff baseball without a close call in the seventh inning.
“I thought the game should have been over,” Evanek said about a possible third out when Tioga led 8-6. “Most people did, too.”
The two teams both had line-ups that could hit up and down the order, manufacturing runs with both small ball and big bats. They combined for 11 walks and seven extra base hits in the contest.
Tioga’s Pierce Hendershot had the big hit on the day, a 2-run home run that went 340 feet to clear the left field wall at NYSEG Stadium. He finished the day 2-for-3 with 4-RBI and two runs scored.
Cooperstown’s Kendall Haney matched him with a 3-for-3 day himself, all on doubles, and crossed home all three times he had a hit. He also walked his first time up to have a perfect on base percentage.
The two also dueled on the mound. Hendershot started and went 6 2/3-innings, getting pulled only because he surpassed the 125 pitch mark.
A 22 pitch first inning and 29 in the third put Hendershot in danger of hitting the mark early. He settled down later, including a 6-pitch top six, but ran out of pitches in Cooperstown’s top seventh rally.
“It’s still a pretty good effort,” Evanek said about Hendershot. “The first inning was a little rough for us, we were lucky to escape with just one run.”
He finished with 126 pitches with nine strikeouts, seven hits, five walks, eight runs, five of which were earned. Thomas Cook tossed the final third of an inning, allowing one hit on 10 pitches.
Haney didn’t start nor did he get the win but did the lion’s share of work for Cooperstown, who put three hurlers on the mound. He came on in a jam in the second inning and pitched until the sixth for four innings of work.
He threw 58 pitches with three strikeouts, three hits, two walks, one hit by pitch and three earned runs.
Eric Deyensroth, their rangy first baseman, would get the win. He tossed the final two-thirds of the bottom of the sixth, allowing two hits and one earned run on 15 pitches.
Chris Ubner, the starter, actually got the save. He went the first one and a third innings, throwing 40 pitches for one strikeout while allowing three hits, three walks and three earned runs.
He reentered in the top of the seventh, taking care of Tioga 1-2-3 for the save. Ubner finished the day with 57 pitches, one strikeout, three hits, three earned runs and three walks on 2 1/3-innings.
It was Cooperstown getting on the scoreboard first as lead-off batter Ryan Lansing laid down a first pitch bunt for a single. After Haney drew a walk Ubner doubled in Lansing to make it 1-0 with runners on second and third and no outs for the Tigers.
They settled down, though, getting Ben Tafuro to fly out then caught Haney at home on a busted squeeze play. The batter didn’t get the bat on the ball but it rolled away from Tiger catcher Mason Booser. He recovered to tag Haney out. Hendershot then took care of the inning by striking out Alex Hascup.
Down 1-0 Tioga rallied back in the bottom of the second as Brady Worthing led off with a single. After an out Derrick Barto brought him in with an RBI double. Adrian Weaver and Seth Franks, the eight and nine batters for Tioga, both drew walks to load the bases for Hendershot.
He delivered with a 2-RBI single, giving the Tigers a 3-1 lead.
Booser was then hit by a pitch to load the bases again with just one out but Cooperstown stopped the bleeding.
Haney struck out John Worthing and first baseman Deyensroth made a diving catch on a Derrick Gage line drive to save two runs and end the inning.
In the top half of the third Cooperstown would knot the game up as Haney led off with a double then took third on a wild pitch. After a strikeout Tafuro walked and took second on a steal to put runners on second and third.
Sam Bonderoff then did a job, hitting a single to right field to score Haney and Tafuro for a 3-3 scoreboard.
Bonderoff would reach third in the inning but Hendershot struck out the next two batters to end the threat.
It stayed knotted until the bottom of the fourth when Tioga manufactured a 2-out run. Hendershot drew a walk then scored from first on a double by Booser that buried itself in the left field corner.
The 4-3 lead was short lived as Cooperstown punched back in the top of the fifth. Haney once again led off with a double to left field. A throwing error on a pick-off attempt put him on third where Tafuro brought him in on a sacrifice fly to tie things up again, this time at 4-all.
Momentum was even after that and neither team could seize it in the fifth despite Gage reaching second with one out.
Both squads were like ships dead in the water, waiting for a break to resume their journey.
That break came for Tioga in the bottom of the sixth.
Weaver led off with a walk for the Tigers. One batter later Hendershot added to his legacy with his home run.
It was a moon shot to left field. Everybody in the stands was watching the Cooperstown left fielder who just kept running deeper and deeper until he ran out of room and watched it clear the wall.
The shot not only woke up Tioga it knocked Haney out of the game as the coaches brought in Deyensroth to face the next batter.
The third Cooperstown pitcher got Booser to fly out but John Worthing hit a 2-out single. Gage then rocked one to center field. The out fielder dove but came up short and it rolled all the way to the deepest part of the field, allowing Worthing to score and Gage to reach third base.
Deyensroth did end the threat, though, as he got Brady Worthing to fly out.
Tioga had a 3-run lead (7-4) and was three outs away from the state final four but the top of the Cooperstown order loomed.
“I felt good about it,” Evanek said about the lead. “Pierce is the guy who I would want on the mound at any time and they did have the top of the order coming up so I knew we would have our hands full there, we would have to work for it.”
Hendershot got Lansing to fly out to centerfield but Haney doubled (again). An Ubner fly ball to center was caught for the second out.
Then controversy struck.
A slow rolling ground ball by Tafuro was fielded but the throw was in the dirt, getting past Gage at first. Tafuro tried for second but Gage recovered the ball quickly and threw to Brady Worthing, who appeared to tag Tafuro on the back of the left should just as he went into his slide, a few feet from the bag.
He was called safe, though, keeping Cooperstown’s hopes alive.
“That guy made a safe call before the play even finished,” said Evanek, who protested the call on the field.
Haney scored during the commotion, cutting it to 7-5 with a runner on second.
Bonderoff would follow by a drawing a walk while Hascup singled to in Tafuro to make it 7-6.
That was Hendershot’s last batter as he hit the pitch limit and the Tigers brought Cook in. On Cook’s first pitch Bonderoff and Hascup both stole to put two runners in scoring position.
Jesse Furnari, who hadn’t had a hit in three plate appearances, made good on his fourth. He hit a 1-1 pitch down the third baseline into the outfield, allowing both Bonderoff and Hascup to score, giving Cooperstown an 8-7 lead, their first since the first inning.
Furnari was thrown out trying to steal second but the damage was done.
In the bottom half of the inning Ubner came on and retired the side to secure the win.
Gage (2-for-4) also had a multi-hit game for Tioga with Booser, John Worthing and Barto each getting hits. The Tigers hit the ball well throughout but many hard shots were right at outfielders.
Cooperstown will be back in the Triple Cities for the final four on Friday while Tioga’s season ends in the state quarterfinals.
In the high school playoffs all teams end their seasons with tears but only one team can have happy ones. Regardless of Friday’s outcome Tioga still finished the year as Section IV champions.
“I’m thankful to have my seniors,” said Evanek. “They did a great job leading my team this year.”