ELMA — Starpoint baseball didn't get the storybook ending it'd hoped for Saturday afternoon.
But considering what the young Spartans experienced over the past 16 months, from the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic to the injury bug in early June, they ended up with a pretty incredible journey this spring.
Despite putting five runs on the board and taking a three-run lead with four hits in the top of the second, the seventh-seeded Spartans soon learned why the Iroquois Chiefs finished as the No. 1 seed in the Section VI Class A2 bracket. With two runs in the third, another two – including the go-ahead run on a wild pitch – in the fourth plus a complete-game, 15-strikeout performance and timely hitting from junior Cam Fuer, Iroquois capped its unbeaten season (17-0-1) with a 7-5 victory over the Spartans (6-11) at Iroquois High School. This was Iroquois’ third Class A2 title in program history (2016, 2019) and their fourth VI championship overall.
“We lost to a very good team today,” said Starpoint head coach Tim Racey, who was on the sidelines for the Spartans' last sectional title win in 2014 versus Williamsville South before a loss to Albion in the Class A crossover game. “We have nothing to hang our heads about. It was a tough loss. It was tough for our seniors but, in the end, it was a great experience for everybody, especially my younger kids. I have six sophomores on the team and, well, they learned a lot today.”
After Fuer retired the Spartans in order at the game’s start, the Chiefs drew first blood at the plate against Starpoint’s Josh Milleville in the bottom of the first. An infield error and a single gave Iroquois two base runners and resulted in a sacrifice fly for Owen Silliman and a RBI double for Jesse Bobeck in consecutive at-bats for a 2-0 lead. The Spartans recovered by forcing a ground out and Milleville recorded his first of six strikeouts in the game.
The Starpoint bats came to life in the top half of the second, started by a leadoff triple by sophomore Andrew Hearn. Later, a two-out single by senior Dillon Zdrojewski cut the deficit to 2-1. junior Carson Marcus drew a walk and senior Tyler Preisch battled through 14-pitch at-bat before his single loaded the bases. The long at-bats were rewarded as junior Luke Blas drilled a ball just underneath the glove of Iroquois right fielder Braden Axelson for a three-run triple. Blas ended the scoring by crossing home plate on an infield throwing error for a 5-2 Starpoint lead.
This would be the last surge at the plate for the Spartans as they finished the final five innings (17 total at-bats) with only one man left on base and 11 strikeouts, including their last five chances at the plate.
As the Spartans' bats cooled down, the Chiefs' heated up, starting in the bottom of the third. After Matt Blair reached first base and then advanced to second after a dropped third strike throwing error, Silliman brought him home with a RBI triple to deep left field. Silliman then scored on a wild pitch in the next at-bat to cut Starpoint’s lead to 5-4.
“It was sort of in no-man’s land for my catcher,” said Racey on the dropped third strike play. “He couldn’t really get to the inside or really get to the outside (of the batter’s box) to find a good throwing lane. Plus, every single one of Iroquois’ runners were very fast, and so, we had to deal with that the whole time. There really wasn’t anybody there that had even average-to-moderate speed. They were all very fast. So, I think my catcher just tried to hurry the throw and he pulled off my first baseman there and that’s how that rally started.”
After the Spartans left what would eventually be their final runner on base in the top of the fourth, the Chiefs took full advantage in the bottom half of the frame. After a leadoff single and stolen base from Sam Staerker with one out, Fuer showed off his hitting ability with a one-run triple to tie the game at 5. Fuer then scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch in the next at-bat for the 6-5 lead. A sacrifice fly from Evan Yandricha in the bottom of the fifth ended the scoring for Iroquois.
“They were a tremendous opponent,” said Racey. “They had a great season and we tip our hat to them. I know they tied Lancaster, 10-10, earlier in the season, but outside of that, I think today might’ve been anybody’s closest game against them through the season.”
What the Spartans accomplished the past two weeks was a “wonderful experience,” said Racey. They were 1-4 at one point with their lone win against Williamsville South on May 17. A pair of wins against Sweet Home the last week of May put the Spartans one game below .500 before Milleville, Hearn and Marcus all missed time and Hunter Briggs was shelved for the rest of his senior season with various injuries.
After a six-game losing streak, the Spartans were bolstered by the returns of Milleville and Hearn for the team’s 15-1 victory versus West Seneca East on June 16 to close the regular season. Throw in the postseason wins at Amherst on June 21 (5-3) and Will South (3-0), Racey couldn’t have asked for a better finish.
When asked on how this spring should be remembered, Racey said the season was special, simply because they were given the chance to play.
“From our standpoint at Starpoint, we’re just very thankful that we had the opportunity to represent our school and hopefully we did a nice job there. We always try to do the right thing. We always try to do things the hard way and make our school and community proud.
"Not a lot of people know where even Starpoint is, believe it or not. But those of us that do know, we know how special of a place it is for us. We love our school and we love our community and we’re always going to go out there and fight as hard as we can for them."
Joining Briggs, Milleville, Preisch and Zdrojewski in Starpoint’s Class of 2021 are A.J. Moskaluk, Jacob Pytlik, Austin Robideau, Hunter Umstead and Ryan Varney.