For the first time since 2010, the Tompkins Cortland Community College baseball team is heading to the playoffs. The Panthers qualified for the NJCAA Region III postseason by sweeping Onondaga Community College in the regular season finale Tuesday, 5-1 and 7-6. The wins put the Panthers into third place in the West Division with a record of 15-10 in division. With other teams in the division playing their final games on Thursday, the Panthers could finish either second, third, or fourth in the West, with the top four teams advancing to the playoffs. The wins over Onondaga improve the Panthers overall record to 22-14, the most wins in a season in the history of the program. Onondaga ends the regular season with a record of 23-20 overall and 16-12 in the West.
Game 1: Tompkins Cortland 5, Onondaga 1
Needing to win both games to guarantee a spot in the playoffs, the Panthers came out sharp. Starting pitcher Ridge Walker (Moravia/Moravia H.S.) allowed a leadoff single, but stranded the runner at third, recording all three first inning outs via strikeout. In the bottom of the inning, a walk, fielder's choice, and error set the stage for Garret Hunter (Virginia Beach, Va./Cox H.S.) to drive in the first run with a groundout. As Walker settled in and dominated from the mound, the Panthers added a run in the third when Daniel Santiago (Newburgh/Newburgh Academy) singled in the third, moved to second a sacrifice bunt by Chris Micucci (Auburn/Auburn H.S.) and came around to score on a single by Alex Babcock (Cortland/Cortland H.S.).
In the fourth, Walker worked around a pair of singles, striking out two and stranded the runners at first and second. The top of the fifth saw the lefty induce three infield outs, and the bottom saw his teammates give him some more insurance.
Santiago, Micucci, and Babcock hit consecutive singles to load the bases to open the inning. Charlie Hammel (Rochester/Rush-Henrietta H.S.) delivered with a two-run single and Hunter followed with a sacrifice fly to score the third run of the inning and give the Panthers a 5-0 lead after five innings.
After a perfect sixth, Onondaga finally got to Walker for a single run, combining a pair of hits and a sacrifice fly to avoid the shutout. Walker finished the game for his second complete game of the season. He struck out 10, the second time this year he reached double figures in K's.
Santiago was a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate, scoring twice. Micucci and Babcock each had two hits while Hammel and Hunter each drove in two in the opener.
Game 2: Tompkins Cortland 7, Onondaga 6
The Panthers again scored first and never trailed in game two, but the Lazers pressured the Panthers and kept the final outcome in question until the very last out.
The game opened with the first three Lazers getting hits to load the bases with no outs in the top of the first. With his back to the wall, Tompkins Cortland starter Jake Woods (Cortland/Cortland H.S.) responded, getting an infield pop and two strikeouts to keep the Lazers off the board. Onondaga again put multiple runners on base in the second inning, but Woods again worked out of trouble with a pair of strikeouts.
The Panthers got on the board in the bottom of the second. Hunter led off with a single, moved to third an out later on a single by Austin Kulas (Moravia/Moravia H.S.), and came in on a sacrifice fly by Austin Rourke (Jacksonville, Fla./Terry Parker H.S.). The top of the third saw Woods work his first perfect inning, setting the Lazers down in order and giving the Panthers momentum heading into the bottom of the frame.
Santiago led off the inning with a single – his fourth straight plate appearance with a hit – but was erased on a double play. With two outs, Babcock, Hammel, and Hunter singled, the last one driving in a run. After a walk to Storm Grant (Homer/Homer H.S.) loaded the bases, Kulas delivered a single, driving in two runs with the hit and allowing a third to score when the Onondaga outfielder made a bad throw to the plate. By the end of the inning, the Panthers had scored four runs with two outs to push the lead to 5-0.
Onondaga broke through in the fourth, scoring two runs to pull within 5-2, but an inning later the Panthers responded with a doubles b Babcock and Hunter producing a run and making it 6-2 heading to the sixth inning. In the sixth, Woods started the frame with a strike out, and then a heads up play by catcher Hunter got the second out of the inning when the Onondaga player had an infield single and then was ruled to have made an attempt to advance on an overthrow. Hunter, backing up the throw to first, gathered the ball and tagged the Onondaga player out before he could return to first. The second out of the inning proved to be big as errors on the next two batted balls and a double gave the Lazers two runs and knocked Woods out of the game. Closer Evan Plante (Albany/Christian Brothers Academy) entered with a runner on third, looking to record a four-out save. He got out of the sixth on a hard hit line drive to third baseman Santiago, keeping the home lead at 6-4. A pair of singles led to a double steal with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, with Jacob Mosher (Pulaski/Pulaski H.S.) scoring from third on the play, pushing the lead back to three runs at 7-4 heading to the seventh.
Looking to convert his fourth save in four days, Plante started the seventh with a strikeout. After a double, he struck out the next hitter to get the Lazers down to their final out. After a walk, a triple scored two runs, making the score 7-6 and putting the tying run on third. Plante responded, striking out the final batter to end the threat and send the Panthers into celebration mode.
Woods earned the win to improve to 6-1, the most wins by a pitcher in a season in Panthers history. He struck out eight and allowed just one earned run. Plante struck out three to record his team-record ninth save. Combined over the two games, Panthers pitchers recorded 21 of the 42 outs via strikeouts.
At the plate in game two, Hunter went 3-for-3 with a double and two RBI. Micucci, Babcock, and Kulas each had two hits for the winners.
With the regular season over, the Panthers will watch Thursday to see who and where they will be playing in the NJCAA Region III playoffs on Saturday.