MONTELLO — After narrowly missing the playoffs last season, Montello Granite Jaxx manager Mark Hanson said his team came back this year on a mission.
The Granite Jaxx accomplished that mission with a 4-3 walk-off win in 11 innings over Portage in the Home Talent League Eastern Section final on Sunday at Montello High School.
With the win, Montello punched its ticket to the HTL Final Four for the first time in team history. The victory continued the trend of firsts for the Granite Jaxx, who won the Eastern Section regular-season title and reached the playoffs for first time also.
“Those three things were our mission, and now mission accomplished,” Hanson said.
The two teams played to a 3-3 tie through nine innings, and neither team could finish off the other in the 10th.
After Montello reliever Carter Daniels retired the Skeeters in quick succession in the top of the 11th, Granite Jaxx first baseman Nate Andrews ripped a leadoff single to open the bottom half. Andrews was replaced by pinch runner Nick Polcyn, who quickly advanced to second on a passed ball and moved to third when second baseman Hunter Lehman laid down a two-strike sacrifice bunt.
“I really wanted that runner on third and Hunter is a great bunter and I had confidence in him,” Hanson said. “I gave him the bunt sign and he did a fantastic job.”
With their season on the line, the Skeeters hung tough as relief pitcher Kalen Mace got center fielder Matt Sosinsky to ground out to first for the second out of the inning. Mace hit Granite Jaxx reliever Carter Daniels to put runners on the corners, setting the table for Curtis Morgan.
The Montello starting pitcher fell behind 0-2, but ripped a walk-off RBI single up the middle, scoring Polcyn and sending the Granite Jaxx into a stir.
“He’s been our guy all summer,” Hanson said. “He’s had an extremely good summer, both pitching-wise and at the plate, and for him to get the walk-off win, it kind of goes along with the summer he’s had.”
“We were thinking about walking him because he’s one of the better hitters in the league, but we got him down 0-2, we went after him and he just hit a great pitch,” Portage manager Billy Greene added.
It’s another tough end to the season for the Skeeters, who fell in the Eastern Section final for a second straight year.
Morgan, who struck out six and gave up five hits over the first seven innings, hit a solo homer in the bottom of the first, but Montello’s lead was short-lived. In the top of the second, Portage right fielder Adam Walz laced a two-out RBI single to tie the game at 1-1.
The Skeeters took a 2-1 lead in the fourth as catcher Mat Lagoda, who went 2-for-5, scored from second on an error.
“It’s just gutty by our team, just like they have been all year,” Greene said.
Montello responded in the fifth, scoring on an RBI single by Daniels before the teams traded runs in the seventh.
After third baseman Travis Hamilton reached on a fielder’s choice, first baseman Adam Bortz hit a long fly ball that Sosinsky was unable to hang onto, allowing Hamilton to score for a 3-2 Skeeters lead. Montello knotted things up again through pinch runner Lucas Achterberg, who scored on a hit by Daniels after Lagoda was unable to hold onto the ball in a play at the plate.
The Granite Jaxx had a chance to seize control later in the seventh if not for Ethan Greene, who made a leaping catch at the wall to rob Noah Polcyn of a three-run home run.
“Without that catch by Ethan, we’re not playing extra innings,” Billy Greene said. “We made some outstanding defensive plays and we just missed out on a few chances to take the lead. I guess that’s baseball.”
Each team had chances in the eighth and ninth innings, as both put runners into scoring position in both frames, but neither were able to come through.
“It’s just baseball,” Billy Greene said. “There were a lot of close plays today by inches for both teams, and they both played a great game. I wouldn’t expect anything less out of Montello.”
Hanson shared Greene’s sentiments.
“You hate to have anybody not win a game like this because hats off to Portage, they’re a great ball team,” he said. “It was just a great ball game and both teams played extremely well.”
MONTELLO 4, PORTAGE 3 (11)
Portage 010 100 100 00 – 3 9 2
Montello 100 010 100 01 – 4 11 5
Pitchers (ip-h-er-bb-so) – P: Buss (6.1-6-2-0-0), Mace (L, 4.1-5-1-1-4). M: Morgan (7-5-3-2-6), Daniels (W, 4-4-0-1-3).
Leading hitters – P: Lagoda 2x5. M: Morgan 2x5, Uhen 2x5, Andrews 2x5, Daniels 2x6. HR – Morgan.