Dunkirk wins an instant classic

Marauders beat Hillbillies, 3-2 in extra innings, to put an end to Fredonia’s streak of 13 straight wins over Dunkirk

OBSERVER Photo by Braden Carmen Dunkirk pitcher Peyton Ahlstrom celebrates after his 10th strikeout of the game on the mound, in the bottom of the eighth inning during Friday’s rivalry baseball game between Dunkirk and Fredonia, at Chestnut Street Field, in Fredonia. Ahlstrom earned the win for Dunkirk, 3-2.

In the historic Dunkirk-Fredonia rivalry, there likely haven’t been many games better than Friday’s contest. As far as a regular season game can go, the latest showdown between the two rivals will be remembered as one of the best in recent memory.

After 13 straight losses dating back to 2012, the Dunkirk Marauders were finally able to end mighty Fredonia’s streak of dominance and take the throne atop the cross-town rivalry, with Friday’s 3-2 victory in eight innings of CCAA Division 1 West baseball at Chestnut Street Field.

“It’s always a rivalry, and in the end, we’re tired of getting beat,” said Dunkirk head coach Frank Jagoda. “I’ve been in this rivalry since 1970, since Little League. I’ve been in this for 50 years, and the bottom line is it’s Dunkirk-Fredonia. It’s always good to beat them. … A classic is a good way to put it.”

Friday’s rivalry game was a throwback to many years ago, where animosity between the two sides led to tension from the start. Fredonia (11-5, 9-1) starting pitcher Trey Swartz shouted in excitement after picking off a runner at first base in the top of the first inning and returned to the Fredonia dugout pumped up, signaling from the get-go that the game meant a little more than just any other league contest might. That excitement quickly turned to animosity from both sides, as Swartz, the leadoff batter for Fredonia, was hit by a pitch in the bottom half of the first inning. From Fredonia fans shouting back and forth with Dunkirk fans, to Fredonia head coach Vince Gullo immediately having a conversation with the umpires about the pitcher’s intent, the Hillbillies’ side clearly thought the hit-by-pitch was intentional.

Dunkirk (10-6, 7-3) starting pitcher Peyton Ahlstrom quickly retired Swartz on a double play after a sacrifice bunt was popped up. The throw to first doubled off Swartz for the first two outs of the inning on the play, then a groundout ended the frame.

OBSERVER Photo by Braden Carmen Fredonia pitcher Trey Swartz releases a pitch during Friday’s game against the Dunkirk Marauders, in Fredonia. Swartz pitched the first six innings for Fredonia, but was removed because of his pitch count.

“It got hairy in the first few innings because we had adults that need to act more like adults,” said Jagoda.

Dunkirk went down in order in the top of the second, but Fredonia immediately came out ready in the bottom half of the second frame. Fredonia cleanup hitter Troy Lanski ripped a leadoff double down the first base line, then advanced to third base on a sacrifice bunt by Anthony Gullo. The next batter, Dom Gullo, pulled off a daring squeeze bunt that scored Lanski, who just managed to slide in safely at the plate to elude a tag by Dunkirk third baseman Alex Ahlstrom. Fredonia quickly doubled its lead on a towering fly ball to deep left field off the bat of Will Schmitt. Without an outfield fence at the field, the ball was still in play and ended up as just an RBI double, while it would have likely been a home run at many ballparks around Western New York.

Peyton Ahlstrom hit another batter, Gabe Schrader, in the second inning with two outs, which only added fuel to the fire of the vocal Fredonia fans. Swartz came to the plate next, but grounded out and ended the frame with Schmitt left stranded on base.

The Marauders immediately answered Fredonia’s two runs with a pair of their own in the next half inning. A one-out double by Koty Leeper — which also may have been a home run in another park — was Dunkirk’s first hit of the contest. Tristan Skelly walked, then Dunkirk catcher Phil Messina drilled a line drive right back at the head of Swartz that led to the Marauders’ first run of the game. Jared Glowniak followed with a ground ball to second base to score Skelly and tie the game at 2-2 in the third inning.

“We brought the kids together in the third inning and told them not to think about anything else — not any interference from anybody here — and play baseball,” said Coach Jagoda. “These guys settled down, they got their mind right, and they played good, solid baseball.”

OBSERVER Photo by Braden Carmen Dunkirk’s Alex Ahlstrom readies his swing during Friday’s game against the Fredonia Hillbillies, at Chestnut Street Field, in Fredonia.

After that, each team’s offense was kept at bay. Peyton Ahlstrom retired 10 straight batters after the hit-by-pitch of Gabe Schrader, and 15 out of 16 batters through seven innings, with only a leadoff walk to Alec Schrader in the bottom of the sixth inning leading to a baserunner for Fredonia off Peyton Ahlstrom after the second inning.

Fredonia’s Swartz was able to do much of the same to the Marauders’ offense. Through six innings, Swartz allowed four hits and one walk, while recording eight strikeouts, but he was forced to leave the game after the sixth inning due to pitch count.

“Trey did a nice job, he kept us in the game,” said Coach Gullo.

Nick Whitfield took the mound for Fredonia in relief in the seventh inning. He struck out the first two batters in the inning on fastballs, but then a two-out double by Leeper — his second blast over the head of a Fredonia outfielder that resulted in a double — put the potential winning run in scoring position. After a hit-by-pitch and a passed ball in the next at-bat, Dunkirk had runners at second and third with two outs in a tie ballgame in the seventh inning, but Messina’s hard-hit ball to shortstop was fielded cleanly and thrown on to first base to retire Messina by a step to send the game to the bottom of the seventh inning. Fredonia went down in order in the frame, which pushed the game to the eighth inning.

In the top of the eighth inning, a one-out walk to Alex Ahlstrom led to a pitching change by Coach Gullo, switching Whitfield out in favor of Evan Pirtz. After a wild pitch and a walk to Mike Norton, the Marauders had two runners on base with just one out. A ground ball to shortstop off the bat of Peyton Ahlstrom appeared to be the double-play ball Fredonia needed to escape the inning, but the throw to first base went wide of the bag and Alex Ahlstrom came around to score the go-ahead run.

Peyton Ahsltrom took the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning, closing in on the pitch count restriction, needing three outs for a Dunkirk victory. He started off the frame with a strikeout of a pinch hitter, then faced Swartz one last time, knowing it would be his final batter regardless of the result. Peyton Ahlstrom ended his day on the hill with a strikeout of Swartz, his 10th strikeout of the game, to put the Marauders just one out away from the victory.

“Peyton was the boss on the mound,” said Coach Jagoda.

Glowniak came on in relief, and recorded the final out in a dramatic way — only fitting for a game like Friday’s.

Fredonia’s Alec Schrader drilled a ball into the right-center field gap. As he was rounding second base, he slipped on the base and was tagged out on the basepaths to end the game.

“I don’t think anyone wanted to end it on an over-run bag, but we’ll take anything we can get,” said Jagoda. “I’m just proud of the kids for how they battled all day.”

“It was a great game,” said Coach Gullo. “Both teams had kids have chances to win the game. You learn a lot in losses, and my kids tried real hard today. They’re so young and they’ve got to enjoy games like this.”

Multiple Dunkirk players threw their gloves up in celebration of the victory, one that no Dunkirk High School student has ever experienced in their time at DHS over Fredonia on the baseball diamond. It was the first loss of league play this season for Fredonia, who already has at least a share of the league title.

“It’s great that every team comes at us,” said Coach Gullo. “We’ve faced an ace in all 10 league games so far, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re getting tested and we love it.”

Dunkirk and Fredonia each have league games today, as Dunkirk plays Cassadaga Valley while Fredonia plays Falconer. The two rivals will meet again, Sunday at 1 p.m., at Dunkirk High School for a rivalry rematch.

Twitter: @bradencarmen