SYRACUSE — “We just have to keep doing what we’re doing,” South Kortright coach Bob VanValkenburgh told his players after Saturday’s state quarterfinal.
It’s easy advice to give considering the Rams (16-2) have won 11 in a row since April 23, most recently a 13-0 win over McGraw that saw SK advance to the state semifinal for the first time.
“Coming into the game we knew we had to put the ball in play because we thought they might have some holes out there,” SK coach Bob VanValkenburgh said. “[Logan] Kaufman pitched out of some jams, we made all the plays and we kept hitting at the right times.”
SK’s top five hitters combined for 10 RBI, Kaufman pitched six innings of three-hit baseball and McGraw committed six errors as the Rams steadily pulled away Saturday at Onondaga Community College.
Already leading by three in the fifth inning, the top of SK’s order started a rally as Kaufman singled and Aidan Fox walked. Both advanced on a wild pitch, and Chris Champlin’s hard ground ball resulted in a McGraw error that scored Kaufman.
“We knew we had to talk and be loud and just put the ball in play because their defense wasn’t as strong as the teams we have played,” Champlin said.
Austin Lamport followed with the inning’s big blow, driving a double into the left-center field gap that scored Fox and Champlin. The double chased McGraw ace Brendan May with zero outs in the inning.
“We were just trying to make noise in the dugout and get into their head,” Kaufman said. “We wanted to make them to have to make plays.”
Catcher Chris Pickert took over for May and kept Lamport from scoring in the fifth, but the Eagles made their own situation worse in the sixth. Two errors saw SK score twice before the Rams' first hit of the frame, a Champlin double later in the inning.
The Rams were already squarely in charge by the time they put together a five-run seventh, with Lamport tallying two RBI and Kaufman, Fox and Champlin all driving in one.
“They are all capable. The last three or four weeks we have all been hitting the ball,” VanValkenburgh said. “I feel really confident in everyone going up there and putting it in play.”
Lamport went 3-for-4 with five RBI to pace the SK offense. Champlin was 2-for-5 with two doubles and a RBI, Kaufman was 2-for-5 with two runs and a RBI and Fox had two RBI.
On the mound, Kaufman opened with three hitless innings, but had to work out of jams in his last three. In the fourth, Jaycob White led off with a single for McGraw. Kaufman struck out May before Tyler Card tripled for the Eagles, but Champlin had already caught White stealing third. It was the second time Champlin erased a McGraw baserunner.
Kaufman opened the fifth with a walk and a hit batter, and the sixth saw McGraw again get two runners on early. But Kaufman again benefited from solid defense that twice held up to keep the Eagles scoreless. The Rams did not commit an error, while McGraw totaled six.
“Defense is our strong suit, and we knew coming in that we would get good bounces off the (artificial) turf and if we did well, it was our game to win,” Champlin said.
“I was just trying to throw strikes and rely on my defense behind me,” Kaufman said. “I trust them to make the plays and have my back, always.”
Kaufman finished with seven strikeouts, allowing three hits and four walks in six innings before Patrick Dengler struck out the side in the seventh to send SK to its first baseball state semifinal.
“I told the guys that I have been doing this for 36 years and I’ve only made this game twice,” VanValkenburgh said. “The kids are starting to believe in themselves and I’m just really proud of them for coming together and advancing this far.”
The Rams advance to Friday’s state semifinal against Section II’s Whitehall, 21-0 winners over Section IX’s Livingston Manor. First pitch is slated for 5 p.m. at Conlon Field in Binghamton’s MacArthur Park.
“Everybody is excited and everybody is really tuned in after two months,” Champlin said. “Usually we are all out of it at this point but we are all in this and we want it all.”
South Kortright 13, McGraw 0
South Kortright …… 201 032 5 - 13 12 0
McGraw …… 000 000 0 - 0 3 6
Logan Kaufman (W), Patrick Dengler (7) and Chris Champlin. Brendan May (L), Chris Pickert (5) and Chris Pickert, Tyler Card (5) and Brendan May (6).
2B: Austin Kamport (SK), Chris Champlin (SK) 2; 3B: Tyler Card (M).