Falconer defeats Chautauqua Lake, 1-0 for Class C title game appearance

OBSERVER Photo by Alex Shipherd Chautauqua Lake's Nate Engdahl slides into home base as Falconer's Nate Abbey applies the tag.

FALCONER — In a game filled with can-you-top-this defensive efforts by players from both dugouts, Falconer saved the best for last Thursday.

The Golden Falcons, the No. 4 seed, cut down the tying run at the plate with one out in the top of the seventh inning and they held on for a 1-0 Section VI Class C semifinal victory over No. 8 Chautauqua Lake at Denny Meszaros Field.

The win vaults Falconer into the championship game against No. 3 Frewsburg, which knocked off No. 2 Maple Grove, 11-0, in the other semifinal. That title contest will be played at 3 p.m. Saturday at Diethrick Park.

Golden Falcons coach Chris Schrader wouldn’t mind a repeat performance of the one he witnessed last evening.

“We knew at the beginning of the year we could do something special,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of luck. … We’ve won a couple of big games, a couple of close games and I think that’s the key for a good team is to win those one-run games. It seems like we’ve done it all year. That’s what good teams do.”

How good was yesterday’s 1-hour, 14-minute contest?

For starters, it was Falconer’s third one-run victory over the Thunderbirds this season and the second straight by 1-0 count. The game also featured fine pitching performances – the Golden Falcons’ Nate Abbey tossed a five-hitter, struck out five and didn’t issue a walk, while Chautauqua Lake’s Nate Engdahl gave up four hits, fanned three and walked three – and the kind of glove work that would make any baseball purist proud.

“Flashing the leather” would be an understatement.

None was better than what Falconer turned in the top of the seventh inning.

After a leadoff double by Engdahl to open the frame, Abbey struck out Luke Waters for the first out, but Brandon Rowe followed with a single to center field, and Chautauqua Lake coach Bryan Bongiovanni wasn’t about to put up the stop sign for the speedy Engdahl. But Golden Falcons’ center fielder Robbie Penhollow fielded the ball cleanly and threw accurately to cut-off man Bobby Samuelson in shallow left-center. The senior shortstop then turned and fired a strike to catcher Jacob Payne, who applied the tag just before Engdahl reached the plate.

“It was kind of a split-second decision,” Bongiovanni said. “We were struggling to stick it a little bit today, and we may not have had many more opportunities. I felt that was just as good an opportunity as any and it took a great relay just to get him in time. It was a great call, it was just great baseball. Unfortunately, we came out on the short end of it on that play, (but) I honestly wouldn’t change anything. We’re an aggressive team and we live or die with that.”

Added Schrader: “(Samuelson) is as close to ‘Mr. Baseball’ that we have. If you have to have a guy take the cut-off, you want it to be him.”

Abbey still had to retire one more batter with the tying run again at second base after Rowe had advanced on the throw to the plate, but the right-hander retired Noah Webb on a comebacker to the mound to send the Golden Falcons to the sectional championship game Saturday afternoon.

“I told the boys I’ve been part of a lot of really good baseball, and this is the proudest I’ve ever been of a team,” Bongiovanni said. “They started something this program has been trying to do for a long time. When we look back years from now – when we’re successful – we’re going to look back (and say) this is the team that started it.”

The only run in the game came in the bottom of the second inning. Ben Schrader led off with a single, moved to second on a single by Mark Wilcox and scored following back-to-back, two-out walks to Nick Saeger and Jedd Jaroszynski.

“We just happened to be on the right side (of the score),” Schrader said.

What was lacking in run production, however, was more than made up for by the defensive prowess of both squads.

Among the highlights were:

≤ A circus catch by Chautauqua Lake center fielder Brendon Rowe, robbing Samuelson of a certain RBI double in the first inning. The grab was so spectacular that it doubled up Payne who was almost to third base when Rowe made the play.

≤ Diving catches by Thunderbirds’ left fielder Kalen Miller and teammate Zach Martin, the right fielder, both in the fifth inning that kept the score at 1-0.

≤ Falconer’s Ryan Stimson made a diving catch in right field for the final out in the sixth inning, stranding a Chautauqua Lake runner at second.

≤ And, finally, Wilcox turned in a pair of defensive gems at second base for the Golden Falcons early in the game to deny the Thunderbirds scoring opportunities yet again.

All those plays were important in their own right, but they were overshadowed by the center fielder-to-shortstop-to-catcher putout in the top of the seventh inning.

“That is playoff baseball,” Bongiovanni said. “The successful teams play good defense.”

NOTES: Martin was the only player on either team with two hits. … Chautauqua Lake eliminated Falconer in the playoffs last year in extra innings.