FORT PLAIN - Chris Hanifin had three hits in Thursday's Section II Class C matchup between Fort Plain and Hoosick Falls, but none bigger than his walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh that sent the Hilltoppers to the semifinals.
Fort Plain defeated Hoosick Falls 5-4 in a game that resembled a chess match more than a baseball game. Anxious for a chance to get revenge after a 13-1 drubbing at the hands of Hoosick Falls earlier this month, the Hilltoppers had to climb out of a 3-0 hole before walking off in the seventh.
On an overcast afternoon on Craig Phillips Field at the Fort Plain Sporting Complex, the eighth-seeded Panthers gave the top-seeded Hilltoppers all they could handle.
The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis
Hossick Falls’ Tyler Rondeau (11) walks off as Fort Plain Hilltopper players mob Chris Hanifin after he connected for a game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning to lift the Hilltoppers to a Section II Class C quarterfinal victory Thursday at Craig Phillips Field at the Fort Plain Sports Complex. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
The Panthers started off the scoring in the top of the third.
Fort Plain pitcher Marcus Failing walked the leadoff batter, Shawn Livingston, before recording two straight outs. Thomas Peabody then singled to right to drive home the first run of the contest, followed by an RBI double by Billy Pine. Logan Brogue doubled to center two pitches later to drive in the Panthers third run of the inning. Failing tallied a strikeout on the next batter to put an end to the damage.
Hoosick Falls carried a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth, where Fort Plain's bats came to life. A leadoff walk once again started the carousel, as Hoosick Falls pitcher Josh Brogue fell behind in the count 3-0 before ultimately surrendering a walk to Joe Ray. Hanifan then registered his second single of the ballgame before a chopper back to Brogue off the bat of Failing was thrown away trying to get the out at home, yielding the Hilltoppers first run. Jesse Heroth followed with a 2-RBI single to center. Drew Fureno's RBI single knocked in the fourth and final run of the inning.
The Panthers responded with what was the gutsiest call of the game.
After leading off the fifth with a single, Cody Gaines found himself on third with two outs. With Logan Brogue facing a 0-2 count, Gaines broke for home, stealing the base to tie the game 4-4.
"We figured we weren't going to get many runs off him [Failing], so we talked before the game about the steal of home being a possibility," Hoosick Falls coach Michael Lilac said. "We always thought an 0-2 count with two outs is a pretty good time to do it."
Lilac was right.
"We cover everything, but never with two strikes on a batter," Fort Plain skipper Craig Phillips said in regards to the steal. "That's a pretty dangerous play."
All remained relatively quiet until the bottom of the seventh.
Again, a leadoff walk surrendered by Josh Brogue proved ominous. After a misplayed bunt and another walk, the Panthers used five infielders in getting Ray to bang into a fielder's choice. Hanifan then stepped up to the plate and crushed his third hit of the game over the center fielder's head, driving in Fureno for the game-winning RBI.
In what was the last game for six Panther seniors, and the last home game for seven Hilltoppers, emotions ran high.
"My seniors don't quit," Phillips said. "Chris Hanifan's been doing it his whole career. It was nice to win our last home game for our seniors."
In a game where Hilltopper ace Failing was at times visibly frustrated on the mound, he registered a quiet 12 strikeouts.
"If you would have told me we would get four runs off them, I'd say we have a shot," Lilac said after the loss. "Fort Plain fought back and that's what good teams do."
The Hilltoppers' semifinal game is to be determined, as a quarterfinal game between Hoosic Valley and Greenwich was rained out Thursday. That game will be played today, with scheduling to be finalized after it concludes.
Fort Plain 5, Hoosick Falls 4
Hoosick Falls003 010 0 - 4 5 1
Fort Plain000 400 1 - 5 8 1
J. Brogue and L. Brogue; Failing and Sweet