TROY, N.Y. —Going into Thursday night’s Section II Class CC championship match at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, Hoosick Falls manager Mike Lilac knew it would take a stellar performance in order to dethrone defending state champion Chatham.
“Against a team like that you have a very small margin of error, and we needed some breaks,” Lilac said. “They’re just very good. Very good. That’s why they won states last year, and probably have a good chance to do it again.”
In the battle of Panthers, Chatham created its own breaks on its way to a 10-1 victory, ending Hoosick Falls’ season.
Tyler Kneller was fantastic on the mound, pitching all seven innings and allowing just one hit, an RBI single up the middle off the bat of Jake Sparks in the top of the third inning. Kneller added 11 strikeouts to his line, while also issuing two walks and hitting two batters. Hoosick Falls never found an offensive rhythm as the College of Saint Rose baseball commit shut them down all night.
“That’s what a (NCAA) Division II pitcher looks like,” Lilac said.
AJ Brown drew a walk to start the contest and Sparks worked a full count in the following at bat. Although it was early, it felt like Hoosick Falls was in a good position to strike first. Kneller got Sparks to miss on a swing, however, and Brown was hosed down by Chatham catcher Logan Smalley in a strike-him-out throw-him-out double play. Kneller struck out the following batter to get out of the inning.
Chatham’s first two batters reached in the bottom half of the inning, including an RBI triple by Matthew Thorsen just inside the right field line, giving the Panthers a lead it would not relinquish.
Thorsen came around to score two batters later on a sac bunt by Kneller. Thorsen could have stolen home clean, beating the pitch by lefty Luke Nicholas to the plate, but Kneller laid down the bunt anyways.
A two run home run over the left field fence by leadoff man Tate Van Alstyne (4 for 4, three RBIs) the following inning built Chatham’s lead to 5-0.
Sparks came on to pitch in relief from the third inning on, but Hoosick Falls was unable to trim the deficit and Chatham tacked on runs in the third, fourth and fifth.
The loss marked the end of high school baseball for Hoosick Falls’ five seniors: Ben Smith, Ryan Cross, Garrett Taylor, Ryan Maxon and Sparks.
“We got five really good kids, it inspires you to keep coaching when you have kids like that,” Lilac said of his senior group.
The Hoosick Falls manager inserted Smith, Cross, Taylor and Maxon into the game in the top of the seventh, each getting one final plate appearance.
Thursday’s loss isn’t how Hoosick Falls hoped to end the season, but Lilac praised his team’s toughness they displayed throughout the spring. The Panthers began the season with a handful of losses, but never gave up on themselves.
“Nothing to be ashamed of. We started off 0-4, (kept) battling and playing hard,” Lilac said. “We kept ourselves focused and kept working hard and got here. So, a successful year. That’s what sports is all about.”
Next year’s team features nine returning starters, yet will still have a massive hole to fill with Sparks’ departure. Lilac called the senior the program’s “best player ever.”
“He’s one of the best kids ever, humble, hardworking,” he said. “By the time he got to his last few years, he was like an assistant coach on the field. We won’t be replacing him, but he left the program in a better spot than when he got here.”