Brocton plays State semifinal game today
Back in Binghamton
BINGHAMTON — The Brocton Bulldogs have one thing on their mind this weekend at the baseball State Final Four — making history. After the first trip to States in Brocton baseball program history a year ago, the Bulldogs have now gone back-to-back years.
As sweet as last year’s historic run tasted, the Bulldogs are now poised to take the final step, beginning today at 2 p.m., as Brocton (10-6) plays Section X champion Lisbon in the New York State Class D baseball semifinals with a berth in the State title game on the line.
“I’m ready for this. I want to take this all home,” said Brocton senior co-captain Jordan Krystofiak, one of six returning starters from last season’s team.
“I think them being there last year helps a little. It’s not so new,” said Brocton coach Rob Fetterick. “We’re focused. We have a chance to write the history books. We’re going to take full advantage of it.”
Fetterick returned this season as Brocton’s coach after a one-year hiatus. For him, the trip to States is an entirely new experience.
“Getting here is pretty surreal. It’s taken me a couple days to really gather my thoughts,” said Fetterick on Wednesday after the final practice of the year at Brocton High School. “For these kids to do it two times in a row — and now with me in charge to go back — it’s just phenomenal. I can’t say enough about these kids and their work ethics. … We’re happy to be going back and hopefully we come back with the title.”
Brocton’s opponent, Lisbon (13-3) comes in on a seven-game win streak, featuring an unusually young roster, with only one senior and no juniors, compared to the five seniors on Brocton’s roster.
“They’re a young team … but they’ve got to where they are. Obviously, we know they can play the game,” said Fetterick of his opponent this afternoon. “Age is only a number. When you’ve got abilities, you’ve got abilities, and this team has obviously put it together. … They’re hungry and they’re going to be ready to go.”
Brocton, however, will not be intimidated.
“My mindset is pretty level. We’ve got to come in here level-minded and play this just like we’d play any other team,” said Krystofiak. “They’re here for a reason, we’re here for a reason. It’s going to be a good game.”
After a disappointing end to last year’s historic season for Brocton, this year’s Bulldogs appear as focused as ever, determined to take the next step this season.
“We have to come in focused and ready to play. We need to not take anything for granted,” said Brocton senior starting centerfielder Riley Rivera.
Rivera said that he does not feel any added pressure because of Brocton’s semifinal loss a year ago. “If anything, it gives us the experience. There’s more pressure on the other teams,” he said.
Brocton reached the State Final Four after a win over Honeoye last weekend, in the Far West Regional game in Batavia. Brocton upset Section V’s champion, 6-4, despite a 23-1 Honeoye record entering the contest.
“Last game, we played some dirty baseball. We took advantage of their errors and their mistakes and some of the weak spots they had in their field. Our offensive game wasn’t as strong as we’d like it, but we got the job done,” said Fetterick.
That win was the shining example in Brocton’s favor that this year’s team may just be a team of destiny.
“I think this team is unstoppable,” said Fetterick. “We will be our worst enemy. We’ll beat ourselves before somebody will actually beat us.”
Brocton’s senior ace pitcher, Ronald “Bubba” Brown — who is a near-certainty to pitch in one of potentially two games this weekend for the Bulldogs — admits there is a little pressure to live up to expectations this time around.
“There’s a little pressure, just because last year we fell a little short,” said Brown. “I know our team, and myself personally, we want to win it all. … We’ve been here before so we know what it takes.”
From the trip a year ago, Brocton learned “to stay in the game,” according to Brown. This year, he hopes the nerves are gone and his team is ready to make some noise in Binghamton.
“Last year in the playoffs, we were hitting the ball really well, but then in the game (at States) we might have been a little off-focused and we ended up only putting up one hit. We definitely need to come focused and hit the ball,” said Brown.
For Fetterick, the formula for his team to be successful is simple — just play Brocton’s brand of baseball.
“We’ve got to be on our game. We’ve got to play our way of playing. We’ve got to be aggressive when they give us the opportunities. We’ve got to put the ball in play and play the great defense that’s got us to where we are now,” said Fetterick.
While Brown will all-but-certainly see the mound this weekend, Krystofiak — Brocton’s standout catcher — will likely be the team’s other option to turn to on the mound. With pitch count restrictions, Brown will not be allowed to pitch the entirety of both contests, should Brocton advance to the title game.
“I’m ready,” said Krystofiak, regardless of the role he plays this weekend. “I’m the kind of person who just does exactly what he’s told to when he’s told. If Coach needs me to play somewhere else, I’ll play somewhere else. I’ll do my part.”
Regardless of who is pitching, Fetterick believes his team is playing the best it has all season long. That was his goal all season long, beginning in the gym and in the weight room before the team ever stepped foot on a baseball field in 2019.
“This is the time we shine,” said Fetterick. “We talked earlier in the year about playing our best baseball in May and June, and we’re starting. I think we’ve just scratched the surface of the abilities of these guys.”
Brown, along with his senior teammates, hope to lead the group that brings the program’s first baseball State title home to the town of Brocton.
“The community is awesome. They’re always giving a lot of support to us,” said Brown. “Especially in back-to-back years, it will be tough to do this again. This is definitely going to go in the history books. We’re enjoying the time as it goes on.”
“I’m just glad that my last year of baseball, we’re headed off to States,” said Brocton senior Derrick Burns. “It’s a good last year.”
Brocton senior Darien Booker smiled when he spoke about what the trip this year will be like for him. Booker was not a part of last season’s State finalist team, but joins the mix in his senior year as Brocton’s starting first baseman.
“I’m just trying to win it all. That’s about it,” said Booker. “I think it will be fun, educational, and a new experience for me.”
Regardless of the result, this weekend will be the final time all five Brocton seniors will suit up for the Bulldogs.
“It’s kind of sad,” said Brown of his final weekend as a high school baseball player. Brown has committed to play college baseball at SUNY Fredonia next season. “I’m looking forward to playing in college, but then again, I won’t be playing with my teammates again. … If I could keep playing with my teammates longer, I definitely would.”
The same sentiment is shared by Brown’s co-captain, Rivera.
“Honestly, it’s going to be kind of sad,” said Rivera of his final weekend playing for Brocton. “I grew up in Brocton, my whole life playing baseball every year. It’s going to be different, but I wouldn’t want to play baseball or grow up anywhere else but here.”
Rivera’s ideal story-book ending is just two wins away from coming true.
“I would just like to graduate with a State Championship, to end on good terms,” said Rivera.
NOTE: OBSERVER Sports Editor Braden Carmen will be in Binghamton for Brocton’s quest for a State title. Follow along for updates throughout the game on observertoday.com or on Twitter: @bradencarmen.