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Published: June 01, 2009 11:06 pm   

HS BASEBALL: GI, Klock advance to final

By Doug Smith
Niagara Gazette

CHEEKTOWAGA — Monday’s battle of the pitch evolved into a battle of the wits and Grand Island baseball passed the test.

With an intense 6-4 victory over Cheektowaga, Grand Island earned its first trip to the Class A finals in the seven-year tenure of coach Dean Santorio. Among the hundreds of Islanders who employed their E-Z Passes for two hours of nail-biting, none could pinpoint the last Viking nine to make the finals.

Working on four days rest, Island lefty Joel Klock surrendered eight hits and pitched out of two bases-loaded situations.

“Our kids never stopped believing that they could,” Santorio said. “We lost some leadership among our seniors last year, but these kids just stepped up and took charge. They hustled and they believed.”

But you’ve gotta believe in a coach who defies the strategic rulebook by intentionally walking the tying run into scoring position, in order to exploit a blunder across the field.

This drama began to unfold in the fourth when Justin Hejna, the Warriors’ stocky designated hitter, drilled a two-run single to cut the Viking margin to 6-3. Cheektowaga wisely pinch-ran for him, but unwisely chose the fielder for whom he was DH’ing. That took cleanup man Hejna out of the game.

So when Cheektowaga rallied to within two in the sixth and put runners on first and second with two out, Santorio ordered the third batter walked, bringing up the accidental sub. Klock gobbled him up in four pitches, his eighth and final strikeout.

While the game heralded a mound matchup of Klock and Cheektowaga’s Jordan Cave, Grand Island broke out with a four-spot in the second. Chris Podlucky, Ben Tomkins and Corey Hagen singled for one and with Tomkins on the move from third, Cheektowaga mishandled the fielders choice on Chris Moody’s sharp grounder to third.

With two out, Nick Kellner lifted a fly to left, easily catchable, but Hagen and Moody pounded the base paths and when the ball was dropped, scored easily.

Kellner’s speed launched another rally in the fifth. He beat out a dropped third strike, moved up on an infield out and scored on Joe Oliverio’s short, sharp single to center. Chris Podlucky’s double then gave GI a 6-1 lead, enough, but barely.

For Cheektowaga, Cave struck out eight, walked three and yielded six hits. Nine consecutive batters from the second through fifth failed to hit a ball past him. Only one GI run was earned.

Warrior centerfielder Ryan Jaracz saved one or two more runs with a fully-extended diving catch on Tomkins’ bid for extra bases in the seventh. First-baseman Brian Brink had GI’s fielding highlight, ranging halfway to second to retire DH Hejna on a 3-1 play with the bases loaded in the third.