Braves baseball falls to AA in 11-inning heartbreaker


Recorder Sports Staff

FONDA -- After 10 exhausting innings and with no winner still decided, Fonda-Fultonville's Zak Shaw still wanted to come back and pitch the 11th frame of Tuesday's Colonial Council baseball tilt against Albany Academy.

"That would've been nice to come back one more inning and hopefully try to win the game," Shaw said.

Braves coach Rick Palumbo wasn't going to let him. Ten innings and more than 130 pitches was enough from his gutsy junior ace.

"He wanted to go back out, but he wasn't going to," Palumbo said. "He's a fighter. He's one of the better pitchers in the area, and he knows how to pitch. He's a crafty son-of-a-gun

Palumbo turned to sophomore Zach Valachovic in the 11th, and that's when Academy struck the decisive blow. Nolan Duda's one-out RBI single to right field plated Ben Brown with the winning run, and the Braves stranded the potential tying and winning runs in the bottom of the 11th to drop a gut-wrenching 2-1 decision.

The marathon loss continued what has been a three-year hex for the Braves against Albany Academy since joining the Colonial Council for the 2011 baseball season. With this year's regular season sweep of F-F, the Cadets have won all seven meetings against the Braves in the last three seasons -- a run that included the 2012 Section II Class B semifinals.

"This is our third year in the league, and I haven't beaten Albany Academy yet," Palumbo said. "We always have these kind of games with them, where it's anybody's game. We'll figure it out sooner or later."

Tuesday unfolded as a dramatic pitchers' duel between the crafty, knuckleballing Shaw and Academy's electric Brown. Both were dominant through long stretches while also walking the tightrope in a game that was tied for nearly all of the 11 innings that were played.

Shaw carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and finished up allowing a run on six hits in 10 frames, striking out nine and walking three, while Brown surrendered four hits in nine innings, racking up 14 strikeouts against just one walk.

However, neither factored in the decision. Valachovic took the loss for the Braves (6-4, 5-3 Colonial), and Trevor Francesconi tossed two scoreless innings of relief to earn the victory for the Cadets.

"Neither one (of the starting pitchers) deserved to lose that game," said Albany Academy coach Dave Rider.

Neither team scored until the sixth inning, when the Cadets loaded the bases with one out in the top of the frame and Francesconi's groundout brought home Kyle Lancto. F-F answered inthe bottom half, with Baylee Hall singling in Kevin Twardzik.

Albany Academy had golden chances to go ahead in the eighth, ninth and 10th innings, putting runners in scoring position with fewer than two outs in each frame, but Shaw danced his way out of trouble each time.

"I know they've got a really good hitting team, but the way I was pitching and the way my catcher (Anthony Sinicropi) was calling pitches and the way my defense was playing, I really, honestly, wasn't that worried," Shaw said.

The Braves nearly won the game in the bottom of the ninth when they put runners on first and second with nobody out and cleanup hitter Anthony Sinicropi ripped a liner into center. But Albany Academy center fielder Eric Woods charged in to make a sliding catch, then threw out Kevin Myers -- who had taken off on contact -- for a crucial double play.

"I thought the game was over," Rider said. "I thought the ball was gonna drop in front of him and they were gonna score and win the game."

"We had a couple baserunning mistakes that hurt us," Palumbo said. "We've had a couple baserunning mistakes in a couple other games that've hurt us. That's been the bottom line between us maybe having a couple more wins."

With Shaw finally off the mound in the top of the 11th, the Cadets struck against Valachovic when Brown walked and stole second, then came around to score on Duda's single to right, barely sliding into the plate under Sinicropi's tag after the throw from Shaw -- who moved to right after he was finished on the mound.

F-F had an opportunity in the bottom of the 11th with a two-out rally that started when Myers reached on an error, then was singled to third by Hall. Sinicropi then smacked a 1-0 pitch from Francesconi into center, but it held up long enough for Brown to camp under it and make the game-ending catch, forcing the Braves to wait even longer for their breakthrough win against the Cadets.

"We'll probably see them later in the season," Shaw said. "Hopefully, we can get 'em then."