By: Aidan Joly
Games between Saratoga and Shenendehowa tend to bring out the best in both teams, no matter the sport. It was no exception on Friday at Amsterdam’s Shuttleworth Park when the Blue Streaks and Plainsmen varsity baseball teams faced off in the first ever Battle of I-87.
Trailing 4-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth and seemingly having lost some momentum, Saratoga needed to rally. They were able to fight back on key hits from Ryan Seales and Devin McArthur to bring it to a two-run game. Then, with two runners on and Jake Fauler at the plate, he laid down a bunt to try to move McArthur and Lewi Clarke over. He did that and more, as Shenendehowa pitcher Brendan Spulnik threw the ball away, allowing both to score to tie the game while Fauler got all the way to third base with no outs.
However, Saratoga was unable to bring Fauler the last 90 feet, and the game eventually went into extra innings knotted up at four.
In the top of the eighth the Plainsmen went down in order, giving Saratoga a chance to win the ballgame.
Brian Hart stepped up to the plate to begin the bottom of the eighth against Shenendehowa relief pitcher Tom Barkevich. On the second pitch of his at-bat, he hit a towering fly ball to right field that got over the fence for a walk-off home run, clinching a 5-4 victory for the Blue Streaks.
“It feels good,” Hart said. “We had great innings at the end of the game and the homer just capped it off.”
The rally followed by the walk-off was very unlike what Saratoga’s offense had looked like towards the beginning of the game, as the Blue Streak offense had just one hit through the first four innings.
“I think it’s awesome. The kids battled, we kind of struggled in the middle of the game, and what better way to win in the bottom of the inning, and have your four-hitter hit a walk-off home run,” Saratoga head coach Andy Cuthbertson said.
Early on in the afternoon, Shenendehowa had the upper hand on both sides of the ball, grabbing the early lead and being able to hold on to it through the fifth inning courtesy of strong pitching from Brendan Spulnik, but he struggled in the fifth, allowing Saratoga back in the game. Despite this, he pitched very well, allowing just four hits on the afternoon in seven innings on the mound.
“Brendan can be a very fierce competitor. You saw that at different parts of the game today, and he just needs to be able to carry that through all seven innings,” Shenendehowa head coach Greg Christodulu said. “Flush the bad plays and build on the good ones, and to be good competitors on every pitch.”
Friday’s game was the first game that would be promoted as the “Battle of I-87.” These two teams will compete for a trophy that was made up for the games and will be the prize every time these two teams play each other, regular season and playoffs. They will face each other again later this season, on May 12 at Shenendehowa.
Shenendehowa falls to 1-3 on the season following the loss. They will play again on Saturday, taking on Columbia at home. That game will start at noon.
Saratoga improves to 5-1 on the season, an impressive start to the year. They will play again on Tuesday as they take on Troy on the road before returning home on Wednesday to take on Albany. Both games will start at noon.