Thanks to a spring full of rainouts and canceled games, when Port Allegany and Smethport met in Tuesday’s District 9 baseball playoff opener at Roulette, the longtime rivals were seeing each other for the first time all season.
For the Hubbers, it was worth the wait. Al Myers and Tony Farrell keyed a seven-run second inning with back-to-back home runs off Gator ace Garrett Drabert, and following a Port rally which cut the margin to 9-6, Kolin Strawcutter added another two-run shot in the fourth to power the ninth seed to an 11-7 victory and a quarterfinal-round matchup against No. 1 Coudersport on Thursday.
“We’ve been struggling all year, but it seems like when it’s warm out we swing the bat, and tonight they did against a very good team,” Smethport coach Rick Austin said before admitting, “I was scared to death coming over here to play. I know what Stuckey can do, Lowery, Drabert, all of them. We knew coming in it was going to be a tough game. They’re very well coached. It was exactly what we had planned, but I didn’t think it would be by this amount of runs. Big win.”
In the opposing dugout, Port coach Nate Zitnik reflected on a game – and season – that seemed to slip just out of the Gators’ grasp.
“A couple of those hits, if you shift them over a few feet, were double-play balls and ground-ball outs,” he said. “And Garrett does a great job getting guys on their front foot and getting fly balls, but when the wind is blowing out and you’ve got 320 feet in the power alleys … I’m not making excuses, but it just didn’t match up well for us today.”
Jory Okerlund picked up the win for Smethport with Brian Zetwick and Clay Schuler coming on in relief, while Drabert and Camrin Stuckey shared mound duties for the Gators.
“I do give credit to Camrin,” Zitnik said. “He was the first pitcher we’ve had this season to throw over 100 pitches, and he gutted it out. He wanted the opportunity to keep us close, and he did. We didn’t take advantage of opportunities that we should have.”
So while the Hubbers (8-4) move on to face a 12-1 Falcons team which eked out a pair of one-run wins in their two meetings this season, the Gators conclude an on-again, off-again year at 10-5.
“With the type of season we had, not being able to practice outside, being stuck in the gym … I wouldn’t trade any of these guys,” Zitnik said. “They didn’t hit the panic button. One of these times they’ll get rewarded for that work ethic and effort; I just hope it happens sooner rather than later.
“I feel awful for the seniors that they had to go out on this note, with this type of season, because it really wasn’t a baseball season. It’s unfortunate for them. It was a good senior class, and I’m upset that we couldn’t have done more with those guys.”
At Roulette, May 24:
Smethport 1 7 1 2 0 0 0 – 11 8 2
Port Allegany 1 0 5 0 0 0 1 – 7 7 5
Jory Okerlund (4 SO, 3 BB), Brian Zetwick (3) (4 SO, 3 BB), Clay Schuler (6) (3 SO) and Al Myers
Garrett Drabert (1 SO, 1 BB), Camrin Stuckey (3) (8 SO, 3 BB) and Zach Sigafoes
HR: Myers (S), Farrell (S), Strawcutter (S). 3B: Kysor (PA)