Late inning runs put the Panthers over the Black Knights, 4-2

High School goes big league

Gowanda’s Justin Kohn prepares to swing at a pitch during Thursday’s game. Catching is Silver Creek’s Chris Van Cheri.

BUFFALO — In Thursday’s Section VI nonleague baseball game between Silver Creek (3-2, 4-3) and Gowanda (1-0, 5-1), both the Black Knights and the Panthers got to feel like the pros. The two teams both traveled to neutral site, Sahlen’s Field, the home of the Buffalo Bisons — the Toronto Blue Jays AAA minor league affiliate. Silver Creek played as the home team, but it was Gowanda who came out on top, 4-2, in a real pitchers duel.

“We’ve been very fortunate enough to have our third opportunity to play in a regular season game here,” said Gowanda head coach Tim Smith. “It’s something that we hope to continue for many years to come. It’s one of those dates that you circle on your calendar and say we get to play at the best baseball field in all of western New York. A place that Vlad Guerrero Jr., who’s going up to the majors tomorrow was just playing here last weekend. It’s the exact same field that they’re on and it’s just a thrill for these guys to be able to have an opportunity to do it.”

Silver Creek went with Jeremy Wilcox on the mound and received five strong innings pitched from their ace. In the first inning, Wilcox sat down Gowanda with ease, just allowing one single to Cole Herman, but then struck out one and popped out the other two.

Gowanda’s Tyee Nagel matched Wilcox’s first inning. After hitting the first Black Knight batter, Nagel finished the inning with a groundout and two strikeouts, leaving a runner on second.

Both pitchers were perfect in the second inning, with Nagel striking out the side in the bottom half.

Silver Creek’s Jeremy Wilcox throws a pitch during Thursday’s game. Wilcox pitched five innings and only gave up one earned run over three hits and two walks, while striking out six.

Despite facing a pitcher who couldn’t miss the strike zone, it was Silver Creek who got on the board first. In the bottom of the third, Silver Creek’s Andre Rosario, led off with a blooper single to right field, giving the Black Knights their first hit. Rosario made the most of his opportunity, stealing both second and third — putting the pressure on Nagel, Silver Creek then loaded the bases with back to back, two out walks. Travis Drozdziel stepped up to the plate with two outs and on the first pitch hit a grounder to the shortstop-third base gap, Gowanda’s defense kept the ball in the infield, but Hunter Prinzbach beat the play at third — allowing Rosario to score, giving Silver Creek a 1-0 lead.

“This is our eighth game and we’ve been behind in probably five or six of them,” said Coach Smith. “It’s a seven inning game, and we’ve talked to these guys that no matter what you do, it’s always going to be seven innings. So if you have a bad inning you might make yourself work a little bit harder, but you still have got to play full seven innings. Defensively, they’ve got to stop us for a full seven innings. There’s no reason to panic when someone scores first, you’ve got to score to win a game anyways. If you’re good enough to win that day, you’re going to score at some point.”

Nagel was able to get out of the third without any further damage as he struck out the final batter of the inning.

After a scoreless fourth inning, Gowanda was finally able to figure out Wilcox in the fifth inning. Nagel got things started for the Panthers in the inning, hitting a single to shallow left field. Following a big strikeout by Wilcox, Gowanda’s Zack Smith came up with the biggest hit of the game. Smith sent a two out, deep line drive to the right-centerfield gap for a triple, scoring Nagel from first and tying the game at 1-1. Silver Creek was able to get out of the inning without any further damage, but Gowanda’s offense was just starting to heat up.

At the beginning of the sixth inning, Silver Creek changed directions on the mound and turned the ball over to Andre Rosario.

OBSERVER Photos by Christian Storms. Gowanda’s Tyee Nagel winds up for a pitch in Thursday’s Section VI nonleague game between Gowanda and Silver Creek at Sahlen’s Field, in Buffalo.

“Jeremy is an outstanding pitcher,” said Silver Creek head coach Mike Janisch. “He wasn’t tired or anything, we just had to get Andre some time on the mound, because he hasn’t had much of it this year.”

Rosario struggled early on, first giving Tanner Olson a single, then following it up by walking Gavin Phillips. Matt Smuda got in on the action after hitting a ball to second base that caused an error, loading up the bases with no outs. Justin Kohn capitalized on the loaded bases, hitting a single up the middle that scored Olson — giving Gowanda a 2-1 lead.

“We had a number of kids that were not here today,” said Coach Janisch. “Trying to get everybody to understand what their role is in the small ball game is really kind of difficult. We had several jay vees up, they were not positioned either. They really tried to do things right and sometimes things did not work out right.”

Silver Creek got their first out through a fielder’s choice, getting Phillips out at the plate, but on the next at bat Gowanda’s Smuda capitalized on a bobbled pitch by the catcher and stole home — scoring Gowanda’s insurance run and eventual game winner, 3-1. Kohn added one more in the inning to reach Gowanda’s final total of four runs.

Silver Creek responded in the bottom of the sixth, after they were able to finally see Nagel leave the game. Nagel faced Drozdziel to start the inning but gave him a five pitch walk — before it was too late the Panthers took the ball out of Nagel’s hands and gave it to Bryan Zynda.

Nagel finished the day with five innings pitched, nine strikeouts, gave up one earned run off four walks and four hits.

“We’ve talked about this with Tyee, he can absolutely get any batter out at the high school level,” said Coach Smith. “He struggles sometime with getting himself into three ball counts. We’ve talked to him and worked this last week, saying if you can go out there and throw strikes, what a difference it would be and he ended up with eight or nine strikeouts today. If you can do that, that’s the difference in a game.”

Through aggressive baserunning and taking advantage of a couple early passed balls and wild pitches, Drozdziel made his way around the diamond, scoring the Black Knights second run that cut the deficit to two, 4-2.

After the early hiccups, Zynda settled in, striking out the side and maintaining a two-run lead for the Panthers.

“I wanted Tyee to try and give him as much leash as I could,” said Coach Smith. “He walks that first batter. It just showed me that he was probably done, but I wanted to give him a shot at it. We knew that Bryan Zynda was fresh and came in there pumping strikes. He’s got a lot of movement on his ball, a couple get away — they get a run off that, but he was able to go in there and shut it down.”

Eager to get back up to bat, the Black Knights defense made quick work in the seventh inning — setting down the Panthers in order, all from groundballs to the left side of the infield.

“Both teams played a pretty responsible game,” said Coach Janisch. “Trying to get everybody into the game and trying to get everything set up, I thought both teams did a pretty good job.”

Instead of an epic Black Knight comeback, Gowanda matched the efficiency seen in the top half of the inning. Zynda wasted little time making an impression, getting a quick groundout then finding his fourth and fifth strikeout of the game to make it a 4-2 victory for Gowanda.

“Gowanda is a fine team,” said Coach Janisch. “It wasn’t as if we were playing a poor team, they’re a good team. They will do quite well in their bracket.”

The Black Knights will try to get back in the win column on Monday when they travel to Fredonia for a big league game.

Gowanda is back in action on Saturday in another nonleague game, on the road at Frontier.