VESTAL, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Columbia’s Elias Conway wasn’t even born yet the last time the baseball team captured a state title. The senior southpaw had an opportunity Saturday to break a 19-year drought, and he delivered, placing the Blue Devils atop Class A.
Backed by some early offense, Conway twirled a gem in Columbia’s 5-1 victory over Sec. I’s Walter Panas in the Class A state championship game at Binghamton University – the program’s first state title since 2004, back when the Blue Devils competed at the “AA” level.
The victory was the culmination of a remarkable playoff journey that saw nail-biter after nail-biter. Columbia fans may have been able to breathe easier Saturday than they have over the Blue Devils’ last three outings, as it was arguably the team’s most complete, dominant performance since a 12-2 win in the sectional semi-final round against Queensbury.
It started with the offense igniting for four runs on six hits in the first two innings. Jacob Skarlis opened up the scoring with an RBI single into the right-center gap that plated Jack Bennett. Skarlis was promptly brought home by the next batter, John DelGrosso, on a ringing double to left field that nearly cleared the fence for a two-run home run.
The Columbia bats fired up again in the second frame. With the bases loaded for leadoff man Steven Heller, he hit a sharp grounder back to the mound that bounced off the pitcher’s glove and rolled through the infield, allowing two more runs to score, and pushing the Blue Devils’ edge to three runs at 4-1.
Columbia tacked on one more run in the fifth inning for good measure, but that was more than enough support for Conway, who turned in six innings of work, allowed one unearned run on four hits and struck out seven batters.
Andrew Gabriel came on in relief in the seventh inning to record the last three outs of the game. The final out came via a punchout; a fitting way to end things for a pitching staff that was stellar throughout the postseason.
Conway, who’s off to the University of Delaware next year to continue his baseball career, said he couldn’t have imagined a more fitting way to end his time as a Blue Devil.
“That was the greatest experience of my life right there,” said Conway. “Winning that just means so much. I wanted it real bad. We knew what we were up against, and we really proved something. It’s a dream come true. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Columbia head coach Chris Dedrick emphasized that the team’s success stems from a strong bond and determination that’s been forged over the last few seasons.
“You know, it’s about the players, and it’s about their mental toughness, how much they believe in each other and what their family means to them,” said Dedrick. “This team has been their family for the last three years. I’m not surprised (by this). These guys came to work every day; they had one goal at the beginning of the season, and they got it.”
Columbia finishes with a 20-6 overall record, and ended the year on an eight-game winning streak – its’ longest of the season.