AMSTERDAM, N.Y. – Ballston Spa baseball was down, but never out against Whitesboro Saturday afternoon in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association East Regional at Shuttleworth Park.
With a who’s who of heroes to choose from it was just a matter of time before one Scotties slugger lit the match and the Ballston Spa rallied once again.
With the Scotties down a run, first baseman Donovan Rhoden launched an offering from Whitesboro starter Avery Cook and deposited it over the right field fence, driving in Boston College-bound Luke Gold for the 3-2 lead.
Ballston Spa wasn’t done, plating an insurance run for their starter, George Mason-bound Jake Manderson, and took another historic step for the program, earning a spot in next weekend’s Final Four in the Binghamton area.
“It was amazing, it was the best moment of my baseball career, definitely,” HVCC-commit Donovan Rhoden said. “Luke (Gold) was helping me out with my timing and I just knew to be on time, just try to hit something up the middle, it worked out.”
Gold took a walk to start the top of the sixth inning and after several pick-off attempts by Cook, stole second base. He then had an eyes-in look at Rhoden’s one-out two-run home run and greeted the slugger after his euphoric trip around the bases.
“I was just happy for our team, battling back, being down late in the game, putting us up felt good,” Rhoden said.
It was Cook who put Whitesboro on the board first, hitting a Manderson offering over the centerfield fence in the top of the fourth inning.
Manderson earned his own revenge, reaching on a one-out walk in the bottom half of the same inning. Rhoden singled to right field to put Manderson on third base. When a pick-off move by Cook went into the outfield as Rhoden looked to take second on a steal, he scored the tying run.
Whitesboro went ahead for the final time when Noah Scranton scored on a throwing error from the outfield on Joey Ruggerio’s single to center back into the infield, looking to cut him down at third before Rhoden’s heroic swing.
“We were down one and it was amazing, I loved seeing that thing go over the fence,” Manderson said about Rhoden’s shot.
On the mound, Manderson earned the complete game win, striking out two batters and didn’t issue a free pass.
“I was throwing fastball a lot today and normally my strikeout pitch is my slider but it wasn't moving as much as I wanted it to,” Jake Manderson said. “That's one that Avery (Cook) hit over the fence, but mainly I used my fastball today.”
Batting fourth for a reason, Rhoden shined in the biggest game for the Scotties to date.
“It was an outstanding moment for him, that kid has worked his fanny off,” Ballston Spa manager Curtis Nobles said. “Luke (Gold), Jake (Manderson), (Michael) Poirier, they get a lot of shine, but that kid he's just as good as those guys and he comes to work every day.
“He was actually sick yesterday and he couldn't even get out of his car, but he came and he practiced because he didn't want to let his team down. I just told him 'God is good and he gave you that moment for that situation right there.'”
Down a run on two separate occasions never fazed Nobles.
“I'm always counting outs, our mantra is 21 out and we never, ever give up until those 21 outs are recorded,” Nobles said. “That's why I never feel down, these guys always fight. Again, they're brothers, they stay together and you saw the result at the end.”
He was also counting pitches and the movement on Whitesboro starter Cook late in the contest.
“Baseball is a game of ups and downs and towards the end the momentum started going our way,” Nobles said. “ Avery Cook, that kid did a great job, but at the end his legs started to get away from him and I started telling my guys to look for something elevated, something you can barrel up' and we did that. We put some good AB's together and Donovan just came up with the big boom.”
Ballston Spa will play the winner of Saturday night’s contest between Sayville (Section XI)/Clarke (Section VIII) 5 p.m. Friday, June 14 at Union-Endicott High School. The Class A NYSPHSAA championship game is scheduled for 10 a.m. at Binghamton University.