By ADAM SHINDER
SARATOGA SPRINGS -- When Fonda-Fultonville junior pitcher Pat Hart saw Braves coach Rick Palumbo stroll out of the dugout with two runners on and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning in Saturday's Section II Class B baseball semifinal against the Corinth Tomahawks, Hart was prepared to do anything necessary to make sure his coach didn't give the ball to anyone else for the final out.
Turns out, he didn't have to worry.
"He came out, and he was just like, 'I just want to take off the momentum they've got,'" Hart said. "I was scared, I was ready to go, 'No. I'm staying in this game. You're not taking me out."
Hart kept the ball, and four pitches later he finished off the most important game he's ever pitched in style, blowing a fastball past Corinth's Cassidy White for the 11th strikeout of a brilliant, four-hit shutout as the Braves steamrolled their way into their first Class B title game since 2009 with a 10-0 rout of the top-seeded Tomahawks.
Hart also went 3-for-4 with two runs batted in as the Braves continued their hot-hitting from Thursday's six-run seventh inning against Stillwater by giving Hart a four-run cushion before he even took the mound, then adding three more in the second inning to blow the game wide open.
"Pat's done that for us this year," Palumbo said. "Pat can pitch, and he's just a very good baseball player in general. He pitched well today, and that's what we were hoping he would do."
The fifth-seeded Braves will face No. 6 seed Voorheesville in the title game Wednesday at 4 p.m. at Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy, with the winner moving on to the Class B-BB playoff against either Johnstown or Schalmont for the right to enter the state tournament.
Saturday, the Braves looked every bit the part of the title contender against the tournament's No. 1 seed, as Zak Shaw ripped a two-run double to right to open the scoring in the first inning before two more runs came in to score later in the frame on a misplayed grounder off the bat of Rob O'Kosky.
"That was big," Braves senior Baylee Hall said. "Just like last game against Stillwater, we got up on them early and the momentum carried over."
"That first inning set us back a little bit and put us on our heels, and we just never recovered," added Corinth coach Pete Sorbera.
Three more runs came across in the second on a perfectly executed squeeze bunt for a single by Hart, a Hall RBI double and a Zach Valachovic RBI groundout. That's all the help Hart needed, as the righthander scattered four singles and allowed two walks in setting down a Corinth team that earned the top seed thanks to its strong record in an Adirondack League made up primarily of Class C and D schools.
"It doesn't really matter what league you're from -- if you're good, you're good," Palumbo said.
"Just because they're the one seed, that doesn't mean they're the better team," Hart added. "We knew in our heads that we were the better team coming into this game, so we showed it."
Now, the Braves will run into a Voorheesville team that they split with during the regular season with a sectional title on the line in the rubber match.
"They're a good team, but I feel we're the better team, honestly," Hart said. "If we go there playing like we did today, I feel like we can beat them."
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