Hamburg Post 527 swept South Buffalo Post 721 on July 5 before defeating Eden Post 880 to clinch the final playoff spot. Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes.
Ryan Ilardi had not raised his voice towards his baseball team all season long. The Hamburg Post 527 American Legion team that he heads was one game behind South Buffalo Post 721 entering the twin bill last weekend and needed to win both games to place itself in the final playoff spot available in the South Division.
Down four runs in the second game with Lake Shore grad Tyler Freeman on the hill, Ilardi thought it was a good time raise his voice, hopefully giving his boys a sense of urgency with their playing days numbered.
“I had to go up to the mound and I ripped into him pretty good,” said Ilardi. “I haven’t yelled the whole year but I felt like that was the right time to push that button. I told them that if they want to make the playoffs, they can’t be playing like this and making these errors.”
Freeman allowed two errors in the second inning that led to South Buffalo’s fourth run of the game. After that, Hamburg did not make another mistake in its comeback victory, defeating South Buffalo, 12-6, in the late game of a doubleheader on July 5 to take the sixth seed with one regular-season game remaining.
Hamburg swept the twin bill, taking the first game in a 13-3 triumph when the mercy rule kicked in after five innings.
On July 10, Hamburg defeated Eden Post 880, 4-3, to clinch the No. 6 seed in the South Division.
Freeman pitched four innings before being relieved by Ryan Stefaniak (St. Francis), who hadn’t pitched all year but was begging Ilardi to pitch all afternoon.
Freeman began the fourth inning, but Stefaniak came in for him as all three of South Buffalo’s outs remained.
“I was proud of Tyler because he didn’t have his best day, but he battled through and got us into the fourth inning,” said Ilardi. “I didn’t want to have to go to a relief pitcher too early.”
Frontier’s Tom Stoklosa led at the plate with a 4 for 5 outing. Eric Brennan of St. Francis was 2 for 5 and Seth Meyer (Nichols) went 1 for 1 while working three walks.
Tom Raitort, who Ilardi said had been struggling at the plate most of the year, went 3 for 4.
“We got off to a slow start but the bats heated up,” Ilardi noted.
Hamburg slowly got back into the game by scoring once in the third before putting up five runs in the fourth inning to take a 6-4 lead.
South Buffalo (4-10) responded with one at the bottom, but Hamburg scored two more in the fifth for an 8-5 advantage.
Ilardi’s ball club safely put the game away in the seventh inning when it scored four runs at the top for a nice cushion once South Buffalo went up to bat for its final chance.
The early game only went five innings as Hamburg’s 10-run lead in the fifth got the victory by help of the mercy rule.
Sal Carraccio, Hamburg’s ace, threw a two-hitter in all five innings.
“He had a good game, which explains the runs,” noted Ilardi.
Ilardi made a few lineup changes in the first game. Meyer went down to the seven spot and hit 3 for 3 at the plate. Carraccio moved up from No. 4 to No. 3 and went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk. Stoklosa hit fourth and went 3 for 4.
Brennan also hit 3 for 3 and everyone in the lineup made it on base and scored in the most important game of the season up to that point.
“We finally had our A lineup. That’s been our problem all year,” said Ilardi. “I told the guys that they needed call off of work and make these games because we needed these two games to make the playoffs.”
Ilardi usually likes to get all of the players involved, but he made a tough decision to shorten the lineup with the playoffs on the line.
“A couple of guys did not play at all on Saturday, but I told them that’s what we needed to do to win those games,” said Ilardi. “I used our A lineup and had to sacrifice for the team. Guys that have been on the team for three or four years deserve to make the playoffs in their final year of eligibility.”
The postseason begins July 17 with a rain date set for July 18.
No. 6 Hamburg will visit the No. 3 seed.