ALBANY — Before the questions came, Darrin Renner had a question.
“Does anybody know the recipe for keeping things going exactly how they’re going for another week?” the Schuylerville baseball coach asked after Saturday’s game.
Using remarkably efficient pitching, rock-solid defense and a few timely hits, the Black Horses downed Ogdensburg Free Academy 4-0 in a Class B regional final at Bob Bellizzi Field.
The win sends Schuylerville to the State Baseball Tournament final four for the first time in school history. The red-hot Horses (17-7) play Medina in the semifinals on Friday at 2 p.m. in Binghamton.
“The intensity and energy we’ve played with for the last two weeks has been so amazing, and we’re not going to change a thing,” said Renner, whose team has outscored its opponents 47-4 in six postseason games. “We’re just going to try to keep that going and keep these guys fired up for another week.”
In a game that took an hour and 15 minutes, junior lefty Alex Vallee threw just 67 pitches as he hurled a complete-game four-hit shutout at the Blue Devils (16-3).
Paul Harshbarger and Ryan Yandow backed him up with the two biggest hits of the game in a decisive three-run fifth inning. Yandow finished with a double, single and three RBIs.
“I can’t put it to words,” said Vallee, who retired the side in order four times. “I’ve been playing with these guys forever — so to be the first people to do it in Schuylerville history, I can’t even fathom it, really.”
“The one thing that sets us apart is the chemistry we have,” said Harshbarger, the Horses’ senior catcher, whose RBI double in the fifth broke the game open. “Playing together since we were 8 goes a long way. This is just another one for the history books.”
Vallee was still shaking his head over the defensive gem that played out behind him.
“I had one strikeout all day, so basically my only goal was to let them hit it, and my guys are amazing,” Vallee said. “I can think of like five plays just off the top of my head — these guys are amazing, I just love them. I can’t thank them enough.”
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“Our pitching staff is not about overpowering guys, it’s about keeping kids off-balance, making it so they’re not hitting the ball hard so our defense can do the job behind them,” Renner said. “That’s the formula we’ve had all year long. They’re just solid out there, making all the plays. Alex pounded the strike zone today.”
Yandow’s RBI double in the third gave the Black Horses a 1-0 lead against OFA’s Ethan Baldwin, a hard-throwing right-hander who came into the game with five no-hitters and a 0.19 earned-run average this season. Baldwin, who fanned nine batters Saturday, allowed five hits to Schuylerville, after giving up just four hits all season.
“We knew it was going to be a tough job today — we knew we’d have to work and scrap and claw,” Renner said. “This goes back to something (former coach) Bruce Brown used to say, ‘You have to be pesky hitters up there.’ We said, ‘We’re going to be pesky today, we’re going to out there, work the bats, work the counts and get the hits when we need them.’ And that’s what they did, they came through in the clutch when they needed to.”
In the fifth, Jack Bodnar led off with a gap single to left, then Brady Eugair was hit by a pitch. With one out, Harshbarger blasted an RBI double to deep left field. Yandow followed him with a two-run single through the left-field gap for a 4-0 lead.
“Coming in, we knew we would have to see him once and get used to it,” Harshbarger said of facing Baldwin. “We had to key up on his fastball. My first at-bat I struck out on a high pitch — once I got that first at-bat under my belt, and for the rest of the guys I think, we really settled in there.”
OFA got only one baserunner past second in the game. Colton Weatherwax gunned one runner down at third on a long throw from right field in the first inning.
Vallee retired the last eight batters he faced and the Schuylerville players celebrated in a joyful dogpile on the mound.
As for that formula for success?
“We’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Vallee said. “Six games, we’ve given up four runs. If you do that, you have a very good chance of winning.”
“To come home with some hardware is going to be Schuylerville baseball — pitching like we are, hitting like we are and just relying on everybody else,” Harshbarger said.