TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — After striking out to start the seventh inning of Friday’s Class A baseball championship game at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, Columbia’s junior third baseman Johnny DelGrosso feared he had just taken his final at-bat of the season.
“I came back to the dugout, and I was like, “Oh my God, this could be it,”” said DelGrosso. “Then, we fought.”
The Blue Devils did indeed fight, scrap and claw their way back from a two-run, seventh inning deficit against top-seeded Albany Academy to force extra innings, where they eventually topped the Cadets 5-3 in the 10th frame to claim the Sec. II, Class A title.
DelGrosso had his name called again in the top of the 10th inning with a chance to put Columbia ahead, and this time delivered with what proved to be a game-winning, RBI single to left field that would send the Blue Devils to the state tournament.
“I’m so proud of us,” said DelGrosso. “Getting up that last time, (I) was nervous, excited – so much is going through your head – but to finally get the job done means so much.”
DelGrosso wasn’t the only Blue Devil to step up in a pressure situation Friday night. His extra-inning opportunity wouldn’t have come to pass if not for the seventh-inning heroics from left fielder Steven Heller.
Columbia, which had been held scoreless by Albany Academy starting pitcher Geneo Savoca since the first inning, managed to create some traffic on the bath paths in the seventh. The Blue Devils loaded the bases on a walk, single and hit batsman. Then, down to their final out, Heller fought off an inside off-speed pitch, muscling a looping single out to center that scored Kyle Blake and Elias Conway to tie the game at three.
It was the first runs Columbia managed to score since a first-inning Andrew Gabriel RBI single got the Blue Devils out to a 1-0 lead.
They held that advantage until the bottom of the fourth inning when the Cadets put runners on the corners with no outs. Savoca took off for second base, and the throw from the catcher sailed into center field, allowing Gianni DiCerbo to jog home from third base to knot things up at one.
The game remained tied going into the bottom of the sixth, where Academy got runners on second and third, again with zero outs. After Conway, who immediately came on in relief of starter Jacob Skarlis, recorded a strikeout, the Cadets elected to get creative at the plate. The next batter, Brady Sears, laid down a safety squeeze. Conway fielded the bunt cleanly, and tried a quick shovel toss to home plate, but the ball got away from the catcher, allowing Savoca to score, and right behind him was Nico DiSanto. In the blink of an eye, Academy held its’ first lead of the game at 3-1.
But Savoca, who was masterful after his first-inning miscue, could not quite shut the door on the Blue Devils in the seventh. And after DelGrosso’s go-ahead single in the 10th, Korin Laurilla followed up two batters later with a ringing single to left that scored pinch runner Colin DeMarco.
That gave Columbia a two-run cushion that Gabriel, who took over on the mound in the ninth inning, would not relinquish. The Cadets got the tying run to the plate, but Gabriel forced a pop-up to second base for the final out, completing the Blue Devils’ remarkable comeback – a comeback head coach Chris Dedrick attributed to tremendous team chemistry.
“They’ve been together for three years,” said Dedrick. “They’re a family. They pick each other up every day. They practice like this every day. So, I’m not surprised. I never give up on these guys, because you just never know what they’re gonna do, and it was a good testament of that today.”
Columbia’s first game in the state tournament will come in the regional round to be played next Saturday, June 3. The Blue Devils will await the winner of a sub-regional matchup between Sec. X’s Franklin Academy and the Sec. III champion. The location of that regional contest has yet to be announced.