By JON RATHBUN
Senior Sports Editor
LITTLE FALLS, N.Y. — It was a win Travis Heiser was quick to share.
“It was a team win, a whole team concept,” the second-year owner of the DiamondDawgs said after Mohawk Valley claimed the franchise’s first Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League championship with an 8-4 win over the Victor RailRiders Thursday at Veterans Memorial Park. “These guys all bought in.”
Heiser, a teacher and coach at Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central who hails from Canajoharie, also made it a point to share the championship with the people off the field.
“This means something to us, the people here in the (Mohawk) Valley,” he said. “The fans. The staff. The sponsors. We’re the smallest market in the league and this is as much theirs as it is ours.”
There was plenty of credit to spread around on the field as well.
•Herkimer College catcher Chris Rave got the scoring started with a solo home run into the football bleachers in the second inning. Limited by an injury to one at-bat in the final nine games of the regular season, Rave went 13-for-23 at the plate and caught every inning of the six playoff games.
“I’m still hurting,” Rave said after the game, “But I knew I had to step up and do something to help my team.”
•Marist College’s Matt Pagano doubled twice, walked, drove in two runs and scored one from the leadoff spot.
•Long Island University-Brooklyn’s Andrew Turner, a backup in the infield who stepped in to catch late in the season when Rave and Marist’s Nick Rybarczyk were hurt, went 2-for-3 with a walk and drove home the tie-breaking run with his sixth-inning single.
•Ryan Stekl, a National College Baseball Writers Association freshman All-America at Canisius College, tripled and scored on a wild pitch to start the comeback from a 4-1 deficit.
•Union College left-hander Adam Ashenfarb shook off a four-run third inning — only one of the runs was earned — and pitched into the seventh inning before turning a 5-4 lead over to the bullpen.
And then there was Anthony Herrera. The University of Louisiana-Monroe’s two-way standout made contributions at the plate, on the bases, in the field, and, at the end, on the mound. The John Olerud Award semifinalist hustled for a triple leading off the fifth inning and helped the DiamondDawgs tie the score. He handled all four of his chances at second base without committing an error. He singled in the eighth inning when he scored one run and drove in another to help extend the lead from one run to four.
The beneficiary of those late runs was also Herrera, who struck out the side in the top of the ninth to close out the win.
“I talked to (coach Blake) Nation before the game and told him if he needed me inn the fourth or fifth inning, I was ready to go,” said Herrera who pitched five innings in Monday’s clincher against Amsterdam and struck out the final batter with the bases loaded to preserve Wednesday’s 8-5 win in Victor. “I wanted to close it out for all the guys.”
The DiamondDawgs won five of their six games in the postseason and Herrera earned a win and three saves with 19 strikeouts and one walk in 10 2/3 innings. He also batted .320 with three doubles, Thursday’s triple and seven runs scored.
Rave’s home run, a line drive that landed halfway up the last set of bleachers toward right field, got things going for the DiamondDawgs.
“I wanted to start something,” he said, “and I knew once I got it going everybody else would pick it up from there.”
There was a hiccup in the third inning when Victor, a first-year PGCBL expansion team, rallied to take its first lead in four games against Mohawk Valley. A walk, a single and an error loaded the bases with one out and Cornell University’s Dale Wickham bounced a single over a drawn-in Stekl at first base to send the first run home. The RailRiders took the lead when Mark Cardinalli from the University of California-Davis grounded into a force play and added a run on a wild pitch. Jacksonville University’s Evan Fernandez hit another chopper that glanced off the glove of a leaping Ashenfarb and drove in the fourth run of the inning.
Ashenfarb walked a batter to start the fourth inning and did not allow another RailRider to reach base until Cornell’s Tommy Wagner doubled with two outs in the seventh inning.
“I was a little wild at the start,” said Ashenfarb who won his final five starts of the regular season and threw seven shutout innings at Victor in one of them. “Once I got my control back I felt more comfortable.”
Ashenfarb’s strong finish to the season coincided with a run that saw the DiamondDawgs win 24 of 31 games in July.
“It didn’t feel like we were ever going to lose,” he said, “even when we were down.”
Ashenfarb’s confidence was shared both on the field and in the dugout.
“I kept telling people these guys know what they have to do to win a game,” said Nation who completed his second summer in Little Falls. “There were times I couldn’t put a lineup together that would lose. That’s a great feeling.”
Trailing for the first time in the series, the DiamondDawgs got a leadoff double from Turner in the bottom of the third but were unable to move him off second base. Stekl led off the fourth with his triple and scored a run then Herrera started the fifth with another three-bagger. Pagano followed Herrera’s hit with one of his doubles, and followed his hustle to stretch the hit for extra bases. A wild pitch moved Pagano to third base and he scored the tying run when Fairfield University’s Troy Scocca, the PGCBL RBI leader, singled to center field.
Victor made a pitching change after Mohawk Valley tied the score and the DiamondDawgs went back to work against Le Moyne College’s Dylan Swetman in the sixth. Florida Southern University Sam Machonis led off with a broken bat single and moved to second base on a bunt before scoring on Turner’s second hit of the game.
Rave got the eighth inning started with a single and Colin Hawk, a second-year DiamondDawg from the University of Indianapolis doubled. Rave scored on a wild pitch and Turner was walked intentionally ahead of another pitching change. Herrera greeted Chris Kemp from Indiana University-Southeast with a with a run-scoring single up the middle, Herrera advanced on a wild pitch — he was sent from third base back to second when the ball was ruled out of play — and scored on another double by Pagano.
“It’s a storybook ending,” said Rave who was part of Herkimer College’s Region III championship team that advanced to the NJCAA’s Division III World Series from the same field in May. “This is all I could ask for.”
The collegiate league championship was the first won by a Little Falls-based squad since the Nick Venuto-coached Little Falls Diamonds won their third Northeastern Collegiate Baseball League title in four years in 1993. The Knickerbocker Baseball Club was NCBL runner-up in 1996 and 1997 and neither the Mohawk Valley RedLegs nor the Diamond Miners/Miners/DiamondDawgs had reached the finals in the PGCBL nor the New York Collegiate Baseball League.