Fredonia falls to Royalton-Hartland in B2 final

OBSERVER Photo by Matt Spielman Members of the Royalton-Hartland Rams mob pitcher Thomas Russo III after the final out of the Section VI Class B2 championship game against Fredonia on Saturday at Grand Island High School.

GRAND ISLAND – The Fredonia Hillbillies have to feel like they let one get away Saturday.

Despite having just two hits, No. 4 Fredonia trailed No. 6 Royalton-Hartland 2-1 late in their Section VI Class B2 championship game at Grand Island High School.

But a hiccup on the basepaths and a sloppy top of the seventh inning allowed the Rams to beat the Hillbillies 5-1 for the third sectional crown in program history and first since winning back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019.

Thomas Russo III was in command on the mound for Royalton-Hartland. The senior right-hander threw a two-hitter with 10 strikeouts, including striking out the side in both the fourth and sixth innings.

“We faced him last year and he knocked us out of the playoffs. He’s earned a number of accolades and is well deserving of them,” Fredonia head coach Tim Cowan said. “He was everything we expected.”

OBSERVER Photo by Matt Spielman Fredonia's Charlie Parker is tagged out at home by Royalton-Hartland catcher Ethan Kuzma during the fifth inning of Saturday's Section VI Class B2 championship game at Grand Island High School.

The Rams jumped on top 2-0 in the top of the fourth inning. Fredonia starter Matt Cash walked the opening batter of the game, but then retired 10 straight Royalton-Hartland batters before a walk to Russo with one out in the fourth.

After a flyout for the second out, two more walks loaded the bases for Rams No. 7 hitter Zack Walker, who lined a single to left field that scored Russo and Ethan Kuzma.

“To their credit some guys down in the order took some good at-bats and made us pay for it,” Cowan said.

After another walk, Cash got out of the inning with a grounder, but the damage was done.

“The first walk in the fourth was to Russo and that was by design. We were going to live off the plate. If he was going to cave and potentially get himself out that’d be great. We were content to allow him on base,” Cowan said. “The next two walks that followed are the ones if you look back we’d like to have back.”

OBSERVER Photo by Matt Spielman Fredonia's Matt Cash reacts after scoring the Hillbillies' lone run of Saturday's Section VI Class B2 championship game against Royalton-Hartland at Grand Island High School.

The Hillbillies finally got to Russo in the bottom of the fifth inning. Cash walked to open the frame and went to second on Owen Rush’s single through the left side of the infield. After a walk to Ashton Putney, Cowan elected to pinch-run for Rush, who appeared to re-aggravate an injury rounding first base on a first-inning single that should have gone for extra bases.

“He’s been working through a knee injury the last week and a half after hitting a ball off his leg,” Cowan said. “When he got the second hit, he was OK going base to base, but once he got to second and we were down 2-0, I don’t think you can count on multiple hits in the inning off of Russo.”

Cash scored on a wild pitch that put runners at second and third with one out. Fredonia’s Nathan Sercu then lofted a fly ball deep to right field that looked to be an easy sacrifice fly, but confusion at third base led to a late tag-up and the Hillbillies’ pinch-runner was out easily at the plate for the third out of the inning.

“My thought was if we could get a flare in there, we needed to be able to score from second. I think that was too much to ask Owen to do. … It crossed our mind to squeeze but we were playing for the win,” Cowan said. “(Sercu) got under it and drove it deep to right-center. My eyes were on second trying to get Putney to third and we just didn’t get a good read off of third.”

Royalton-Hartland added three insurance runs in a wild top of the seventh inning. With one out and a man on first base, Putney’s high, inside pitch to the Rams’ Brayden Hy hit his bat as he ducked and the ball landed in fair territory down the first-base line. Putney picked up the ball and attempted to tag Hy, who was elusive enough to force a throw to first base. That throw got away into right field allowing Jake Gould to score Royalton-Hartland’s third run.

OBSERVER Photo by Matt Spielman Fredonia's Brady Helmer catches a fly ball in right field during Saturday's Section VI Class B2 championship game against Royalton-Hartland at Grand Island High School.

“The batter thought it was going foul. I thought we got to it quickly,” Cowan said. “I thought we could tag the runner and avoid a throw, but … chaos ensued.”

Fredonia’s throw home from the outfield got past catcher Andrew Cowan and wound up going out of play near the Rams’ dugout.

It was ruled that the ball hit a Royalton-Hartland player out of the dugout and Hy was told to return to third base. The ruling didn’t matter in the long run because after Russo was intentionally walked for the second time in the game, Hy scored on a passed ball and pinch-runner JJ Johnson scored on a wild pitch.

“Outside of about three plays, we went toe to toe with them,” Coach Cowan said. “We happened to be the higher seed on power points, but we were definitely facing Goliath today. We packed our sling shot but we weren’t quite able to knock him down all the way.”

Facing a four-run deficit, the Hillbillies went down in order on three straight groundouts in the seventh inning, sending the Rams into Monday’s 2 p.m. Class B crossover game against Class B1 champion Depew at Sal Maglie Stadium in Niagara Falls.

“Even with a great game plan and pretty solid execution we could only muster two hits,” Cowan said. “We had a number of base runners which is a credit to the way the boys grinded their at-bats and fought for every inch to put us in a great position.”

For Fredonia, they’ll look to get one step further next year, but without graduating seniors Micah Davis and Cash.

“We have a big nucleus back, but those two will be sorely missed,” Cowan said. “The leadership they showed throughout the year was a big reason why we went on the run we did to end the year and continued to get better.”


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