The Academy Stars won the Atlantic Coast Baseball Cap Classic championship on June 29 in Pittsburgh. They defeated nationally ranked Ohio Glaciers for the tournament title.
The Academy Stars 15U baseball team has been keeping tabs on the Ohio Glaciers for some time now. The Ohio-based Glaciers are the closest nationally-ranked baseball club around.
The Stars met the Glaciers in the championship game, defeating them in a 2-1 thriller to take the Atlantic Coast Baseball Cap Classic crown.
The tournament took place on June 27-29 in Pittsburgh.
“They’ve been on our radar for quite a while,” said coach Derek Hill, who also coaches at Hamburg. “We tried to pick out a tournament that we knew they’d be at, then we were lucky to get it them in the championship game. That was the plan. I was worried about running into them earlier.”
The Stars were almost unable to meet the Glaciers at all when their 2-1-1 record after pool play put Hill’s team in a tough situation.
Only eight teams advanced to the playoffs on Sunday, and the Academy Stars were on the bubble.
“We thought we were the nine-seed late Saturday night,” said Hill. “We got a call from the tournament official saying that we had won this tiebreaker and we actually had the eight-seed. So there was a point on Saturday night that we thought we didn’t even make it.”
In the championship game, Gowanda’s Matthew Kruszka went the distance, throwing 75 pitches and allowing just five hits.
“The most beautiful game I’ve ever seen as far as the outstanding pitching and defense,” said Hill, who coaches the team with Adam O’Shei, Tyler Shaw and Greg Kruszka. “There weren’t a lot of strikeouts; the theme of the game was the outstanding defense.”
Leadoff hitter Garrett Baugher (St. Joe’s) opened the game up with a walk and scored on a fielder’s choice by Brendan Sheehan of Grand Island.
Baugher bluffed as if he was going back to third base. As soon as Ohio’s shortstop threw it to first, Baugher raced to the plate and forced the umpire to make a call.
“It was a 50/50 play. It could’ve gone either way,” said Hill. “It was really close.”
Sheehan broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth when he scored on a two-out double from Ben Monti to right-center. Sheehan worked a walked and stole second base to get into scoring position.
“Their intensity and energy level was at a place I’ve never seen before,” Hill said on his team’s demeanor before the game. “We told them in the morning, ‘How many days do you get a chance to play a nationally ranked team?’ They were pretty juiced up.”
Ohio threatened in the seventh inning when the Glaciers got runners on first and second with two outs. However, Kruszka got a fielder’s choice to second base to win the game.
“I’ll tell you what, we were on pins and needles at that point. I’ve never been more nervous in my life,” Hill said. “I couldn’t even watch.”
Hill noted a pair of outstanding defensive plays by his boys in the championship game. His shortstop, Austin O’Shei made an out on a diving play that was “hard to describe, but it was the best diving play I’ve seen,” according to Hill.
Dawson Broad of West Seneca West also made a diving catch. His came in right field with two runners on and two down in the fifth to end any chance of a score.
Teams played in four pool play games during the first two days in Pittsburgh.
“We had what I called - and I would know, we’ve used it a lot with the World Cup - the pool of death,” said Hill. “It was so hard.”
As the eight seed, the Stars went up against No. 1 North Alleghany Tigers in the first round, winning a 13-7 contest with Nick Batchev (St. Francis) and Broad on the hill.
Mavericks Baseball was the fourth seed the Stars met in the semifinal. The Stars won that contest 14-5 with Monti taking the victory in the circle.
Batchev also threw an eight-inning shutout in pool play to tally the Academy’s only tie.
The Academy Stars are now 2-2 in tournaments this summer having previously captured the Darien Lake tournament. They’re 17-3-1 overall.