By Blake Dowson – Perfect Game USA
The Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League is in Year 8. It’s not a new league. There has been plenty of time to build narratives throughout the years.
The narrative that becomes more and more clear each summer; there is really good baseball played in the PGCBL, due to the great players it attracts from great college programs all across the country. The second narrative? Amsterdam typically stockpiles a lot of that talent. It certainly isn’t a false narrative; the Mohawks won three of the first four league titles and have won four of seven titles overall. They have been the gold standard in the league. However, there has been a new “dawg” on the block the past three years, taking two of the last three titles – the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs.
Until the playoffs, Amsterdam is the least of Mohawk Valley’s worries; they play in different divisions. But it almost seems like an annual rite that one of the two teams will end up as league champs.
“Things have changed this year when they split the divisions up, obviously,” Mohawk Valley head coach Cory Haggerty said. “We worry about our division, to win that and get a good seed. Amsterdam is always going to be good and get good players. We only see them a couple times, and we hope we don’t have to show all our cards. Our biggest concern is where we are at the end of the year.”
The DiamondDawgs have been every bit as good this year as they were in their previous championship summers, sporting a 15-9 record that has them in first place in the Central Division. With Watertown losing both ends of a doubleheader on July 3, the DiamondDawgs are now top dogs once again after holding down the second place spot for much of the early season.
If you look at the league leaderboards on the PGCBL website for the first half of the season, it is pretty clear who on the DiamondDawgs has contributed to that first place push.
The first statistic that pops up is batting average. Ryan Hernandez leads that one (.427), and Ryan Toohers is eighth (.366). Sort it by hits next. Hernandez is first there (41) and Toohers is second (34). Hernandez has scored the most runs in the league (30) and Toohers is fourth (24). Toohers leads the league in doubles (10), with Hernandez sitting at fifth (7). The duo is tied for the league lead in home runs, as they’ve both trotted around the bases six times so far this summer.
Toohers has outpaced Hernandez in the RBI category, leading the league with 37 knocked in. He’s the only guy ahead of Hernandez on that list though, as his 27 RBI are nine better than third place. For Toohers, all this comes after a solid sophomore year at Villanova in which he led the team in hitting. That made for an easy transition.
“It took a few games, but I got comfortable and we gelled quickly as a team,” he told Perfect Game in a phone interview this week. “It wasn’t too hard to transition with different guys. The competition is similar to what I see in school.”
Running through all of those stats really quickly glosses over the fact that Hernandez has gotten a hit almost every other time he has come to bat so far (with his 13 walks and two hit-by-pitch, he’s on base well over half the time), and that Toohers has driven in a run-and-a-half per every game he’s played. These guys are really good. These guys play on the same team. These guys hit next to each other in the lineup. These guys pose a big problem for the rest of the league.
“It’s been awesome [hitting behind Hernandez],” Toohers added. “He’s always on base. It’s definitely fun. We kind of treat it as a competition, trying to push each other to be as good as we can possibly be.”
The DiamondDawgs don’t just hit, either. After giving up 31 runs in their first three games, the pitching staff has settled down to a 4.65 ERA, in the middle-of-the-pack for the league. With the way the team hits, the pitching staff has done its job thus far.
Lately, that’s due to the starting pitching.
“Starting pitching [has been key],” Haggerty said. “We’ve had the pieces. We know our back end is No. 1 or No. 2 in the league. Our back end is four deep. While most teams have one or two guys, we have four or five. Now I’m starting to see very solid starting pitching, and that’s encouraging.”
The starting staff is getting hot, and the lineup has produced 58 runs in its last five games.
Amsterdam won three of the first four titles in the PGCBL and the league has not forgotten about it. If Mohawk Valley keeps up this roll they are on and wins another title this year, that would make three in four years.
Sure, don’t count your chickens before they are hatched. But what Hernandez, Toohers and the rest of the Diamond Dawgs are doing in Mohawk Valley cannot be overlooked.
“We got really lucky with the players we have,” Haggerty said. “With Hernandez and Toohers in the three-four hole, they’re easy to coach because they’re disciplined, they’re going to pick themselves up even if they’ve had a bad at-bat. They are far advanced [for their age] and some of the power, I can’t teach that. It’s natural.”