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Dunkirk keeps Fredonia out of playoffs

Fredonia needed a win coming into Friday afternoon’s baseball game in order to qualify for the Section VI playoffs.

Standing in the Hillbillies’ way was their crosstown rival Dunkirk, which was looking to put a bow on what has been a fantastic regular season.

Dunkirk got its bow.

The Marauders (16-3) scraped by the Hillbillies (9-9) 4-3 in Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Division 1 West action at Fredonia High School, thanks to some clutch hits and stellar fielding in a game where both teams battled.

“Both teams were resilient,” said Fredonia coach Vince Gullo. “Both teams made mistakes, got down, overcame them, got up and kept battling. It was a fun game.”

The Marauders looked like they were going to get off to a hot start. Leadoff hitter Alex Ahlstrom reached base on an error and the Marauders followed with a pair of sharp line drives that found Fredonia gloves — the second one ending in a double play.

The bottom of the first went just as well for Fredonia. Simon Davis reached base on an error and stole second before catcher Joe Vandette drove him in with a single to give Fredonia the 1-0 lead after the first.

“I give Coach Gullo a lot of credit,” said Dunkirk coach Frank Jagoda. “His kids needed this game and they played us hard. We haven’t been in this position in a while where we’ve come to a park, and we already know our seed. Our kids hung tough, too.”

After the first, both Fredonia starter Owen Ludwig and Dunkirk starter Nick Zatorski locked it down for three innings. Fredonia threatened in the bottom of the fourth with runners at the corners and two outs, but Zatorski struck out the final Hillbillies hitter.

Dunkirk and Zatorski carried over that momentum to the top of the fifth and started to break through. Zatorski led off with a walk and later advanced on a wild pitch. Though Ludwig got the next two outs, Ahlstrom hit a two-out single to drive in Zatorski and tie the game.

The Marauders didn’t stop there. They added two more runs in the inning as Mike Norton followed Ahlstrom’s hit with a double and after Phil Messina reached on an infield single, Javier DeJesus hit a single of his own to put Dunkirk in front 3-1.

The real big play for Dunkirk came in the bottom of the fifth, however. With the lead in hand, Zatorski stepped back on the mound and Fredonia came back ready to fight. No. 9 hitter Trevor Persche led off with a single, reached third on an errant pickoff throw and scored on an RBI single by Davis. Dom Gullo worked a walk, which forced Zatorski out of the game.

Reliever Scott Korzenski gave up a single to Vandette to load the bases with no outs and the heart of the order coming up. Korzenski forced Gabe Schrader into a foul popout at first base. Joey Gullo then hit a fly ball down the third-base line that was fairly shallow. Upon making the catch, Fredonia decided to challenge the arm of left fielder Mike Norton by sending Davis as the tying run. Norton threw a perfect one-hop strike to the plate, which Messina handled cleanly before taggign out Davis to keep Dunkirk in front by one run.

“Mike made a beautiful throw,” Jagoda said. “That’s his first assist at home this year but he throws the ball so well. He kept the ball down and Phil caught a great hop.”

Meanwhile, Coach Gullo knew the throw would have to be perfect to get the out.

“It had to be a perfect throw,” said Gullo. “Hats off to him, he made a great throw.”

With the lead still intact going to the top of the sixth, Dunkirk scratched across another run off of new Fredonia pitcher Owen Rush to extend the lead to 4-2. Zatorski led off with a walk before Korzenski drove him in out of the No. 9 hole.

With their playoff lives on the line, the Hillbillies had to scratch across two more runs.

In the bottom of the sixth, Rush worked his third walk of the game and advanced on a wild pitch before pinch-runner Andrew Camp entered. Camp advanced to third before Persch came up clutch with his second hit of the game to cut the lead to 4-3.

Fredonia avoided more danger in the top of the seventh when first baseman Bryson Kolassa made a sliding catch on an attempted suicide-squeeze bunt and threw to third for a double play.

“Everybody played well,” Jagoda said. “A lot of good things happened today. There weren’t many bad plays. It was just a good old Dunkirk-Fredonia game.”

Fredonia had one last chance to tie it in the seventh as Vandette worked a one-out walk before Schrader replaced him on a fielder’s choice. With two outs, Korzenski struck out the final batter to seal the win for Dunkirk.

Zatorski went four innings, allowing four hits, two runs and three walks while striking out five. He also worked two walks and scored two runs. Korzenski pitched the final three innings, giving up a hit, a run and two walks while striking out five. He also went 2 for 3 with an RBI double.

Meanwhile, Ludwig threw five innings and gave up three runs on five hits and three walks while striking out three. Vandette went 2 for 3 with a walk and an RBI while Owen Rush walked three times, and Trevor Persche went 2 for 3 with an RBI and a run scored.

For the Marauders, they played three games through this week and won each one by just a run. The experience in close games is something Jagoda thinks will benefit his team when the playoffs start Monday.

“It’s building some moxie and building some pressure for us,” Jagoda said. “We needed that coming into Monday. Now it’s the old cliche, one game at a time.”

Meanwhile, with Fredonia’s postseason hopes dashed, Gullo said that they will be pulling for the Marauders to go as far as they can.

“Hats off to Dunkirk,” Gullo said. “They’ve had a great season and we’ll be pulling for them.”

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