Mohawks open playoffs tonight against Albany

AMSTERDAM – The Amsterdam Mohawks’ 2013 season has been a roller-coaster ride.

Amsterdam solidified its third straight 30-win season Monday at home against the Mohawk Valley Diamond Dawgs. The Mohawks will begin playoffs tonight against Albany. Only one other team, Mohawk Valley in 2011, has reached 30 victories in a season since the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League began play in 2011.

Just a few short weeks ago, a 30-win season seemed impossible for a Mohawks team that couldn’t quite figure out who they were.

Amsterdam, always a favorite to do damage in the PGCBL, started the season just 2-6 and seemed to be stuck in a rut from that point forward. At the end of June, the Mohawks’ record sat at 12-11. On June 28, Mohawks head coach Keith Griffin said his team had a tendency to have a good at-bat followed by a non-competitive at-bat, an analogy that could be used to describe the game-to-game efforts of a team that seemed destined to hover around .500.

The Mohawks are a team stacked with talent. Keith Griffin and any fan who catches a game can clearly see it. Inconsistency plagued the Mohawks, however, and mediocrity in the standings continued through the early weeks of July. On July 12, the Mohawks record stood at 16-15. Each peak seemed to be inevitably followed by a valley. The team and its fans were on a roller-coaster ride. On July 11, after a 4-3 loss to the Albany Dutchmen, Griffin called his team “frustrating.”

“These guys are good hitters and we’ve been held to four or less runs in half of our games,” Griffin said at the time. “I know these guys are good hitters, but boy, oh boy, you can get them out easy.”

It didn’t take long for Griffin’s players to respond to his criticism.

On July 14, Amsterdam pounded out 18 hits in a 13-7 win at the Utica Brewers. The Mohawks have only lost one game since. The surge has netted the Mohawks 15 wins in their last 16 games and catapulted them to the top of the PGCBL standings. The team is now set to embark on its quest for a fourth league championship in the last five years.

Led by Griffin, the all-time winningest manager in Mohawks’ history with 153 victories, Amsterdam finished the regular season with a league-high .299 batting average. The Mohawks easily paced the league with 316 runs scored, edging out the second place team by 56 runs. With the short distances down the lines at Shuttleworth Park, Amsterdam finished just one home run behind Adirondack for the league lead with 36.

Eight Mohawks finished the 2013 campaign with batting averages above .300, with John Nogowski leading the way at .365 among batters with at least 100 at bats. That mark was good for third in the PGCBL. Kyle Barrett, Josh Gardiner, Brian Ruby, Jordan Ebert, Ed Charlton, Kevin Guthrie, and Smith all reached the .300 plateau. Smith, who knocked in eight runs in the home finale versus Adirondack on Tuesday, finished the season with a league-leading 34 RBIs. Charlton and Gardiner registered 33, good for the second-most in 2013.

Amsterdam’s pitching staff fared well this season. also. Looking at his roster before the first practice of the season, Griffin wasn’t so sure Amsterdam would pitch as well as it did in 2012.

“We probably won’t strike as many guys out,” Griffin said in May.

Griffin was right. The Mohawks registered 28 fewer strikeouts in 2013 than they did in 2012. The 392 punch-outs, however, were still 53 more than Mohawk Valley’s second-place mark. The staff pitched to a 3.33 ERA, good for second in the league. Matt Snyder, the ace of the Amsterdam pitching staff, finished the season with an ERA of 1.35. The lanky lefty, who is transferring from Fulton-Montgomery Community College to Temple University in the fall, would have taken home league ERA honors but fell 1 innings short of qualifying for the crown.

The red-hot Mohawks begin their playoff run rated 22nd in a national ranking of collegiate summer league baseball teams.

Snyder and the Mohawks will take on the Albany Dutchmen tonight in the first game of a best-of-three divisional playoff. Albany earned the right to face the Mohawks after beating Mohawk Valley 6-5 in 11 innings Thursday in a one-game do-or-die matchup in Little Falls.

Amsterdam will travel Saturday to Albany, where the PGCBL’s most recent Pitcher of the Week, Rich Vrana, will get the starting nod. Vrana tied for the league lead in wins, finishing with a 6-0 record as a reliable arm out of the bullpen for Amsterdam. Vrana’s success in the middle innings has made Griffin confident that Vrana can have the same results as a starter.

Despite underperforming through roughly three-fourths of the regular season, the Amsterdam Mohawks are peaking at the right time and are primed to make a run at another title. The team had at least 11 hits in eight of their final nine games, and pushed across double-digit runs in five of those games.

Speaking from his home in Florida on May 30, Griffin had a message for Mohawks fans.

“I’m not coming up there to come in second,” Griffin cautioned. “We expect to be champions.”

Despite a trying season, the Amsterdam Mohawks look like a team bent on making a prophet out of their leader.

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