Butler pitches Hilltoppers into Class C final

Fort Plain’s Troy Butler delivers a pitch to the plate during Wednesday’s Section II Class C semifinal game against Greenwich at Shuttleworth Park in Amsterdam. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)

AMSTERDAM — For the fourth-straight year, the Fort Plain Hilltoppers will be playing for a Section II championship.

Powered by Troy Butler’s one-hit performance on the mound, the second-seeded Hilltoppers defeated No. 11 Greenwich 6-1 in a Section II Class C Semifinal Wednesday afternoon at Shuttleworth Park.

With the victory, Fort Plain advances to play No. 13 Hoosick Falls, at 4 p.m. Saturday at Joe Bruno Stadium on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College.

The Panthers advanced with a 2-1 upset victory over top-seeded Chatham in the second game of the Class C double-header Wednesday at Shuttleworth Park.

Butler set the tone for the game in the first inning, striking out the first two batters he faced and getting the third on a pop out.

He also got things rolling for the Hilltoppers at the plate with a nine-pitch lead-off at-bat before being hit by a pitch.

Brady Fureno reached on a catcher’s interference call before John Cortese delivered Butler to the plate with an RBI double off the left-field wall for a 1-0 lead.

Butler got his team back to the plate quickly, setting Greenwich down in order on just seven pitches.

Jaxson Yacowenia set up the Hilltoppers second run with a bunt single. he advanced to second on Butler’s ground out and score on Fureno’s RBI double to stake the Hilltoppers to a 2-0 advantage.

The Witches got their first runners of the game with one out and back-to-back walks to Jackson Vanderhoff and Charlie Gartner. Butler worked out of the jam getting Carson Mosher to fly out and got John Walsh on a comebacker to the mound.

Greenwich starter Christian O’Brien kept the Hilltoppers off the bases, with the exception of Yacowenia’s fourth-inning single, until the fifth inning.

Fureno led off the bottom of the fifth with a single and moved to second on a wild pitch. Bryce Thibodeau picked up with RBI with his single. Tyler Vogel came on to run for Thibodeau after Nate Buley was hit by a pitch, putting runners at first and second with one out.

Vogel scored on Taylor Gifford’s single to put the score at 4-0 and chase O’Brien from the mound.

Alex Curtis came on in relief and got the final two outs for the Witches.

Greenwich put a runner in scoring position in the top of the sixth, when Walsh walked and was balked over to second before moving to third on Tom Abate’s ground out to the right side.

Butler came through again, striking out James Ostrowski on three pitches for the final out, keeping his no-hitter going into the seventh.

The Hilltoppers game him a couple of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth.

Yacowenia led off with a single and moved to second on Butler’s sacrifice bunt. Yacowenia stole third and pulled off a delayed double steal after Fureno walked and broke toward second to draw the throw. When the throw went to second, Yacowenia broke for the plate and beat the throw as Fureno continued safely to third. Thibodeau picked up the RBI with his double to put Fort Plain in control with a 6-0 lead.

Greenwich made the most of their opportunities in the top of the seventh.

O’Brien worked the count for a lead-off walk before Butler got Liam Niesz to fly out. Jesse Kuzmich lined a shot right at Hilltoppers’ first baseman Thibodeau, which he grabbed and narrowly missed getting a double play as O’Brien avoided the sweeping tag attempt.

Vanderhoff followed with a double double down the third-base line for the Witches first hit of the game before Gartner was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

Fort Plain coach Craig Phillips went to the mound to lift Butler in favor of Gifford to get the final out.

“It [the final out of the game in a no hitter] is the toughest one go get,” Phillips said. “It would have been nice for Troy to get the no-no but it is more important to get the win. The coaches said that if we wanted to use Butler in relief Saturday we need to take him out, he had a couple of pitches left. We had to take it into consideration if we wanted him to go on and then not have our number one pitcher ready to come in for a couple of innings in a championship game.”

Mosher broke up the shut out, legging out a slow roller toward second, allowing O’Brien to score and keep the bases loaded. However, Nellis struck out Walsh for the final out and advance the Hilltoppers to their fourth-straight title game.

“We knew moving up to the Cs that we were going to struggle,” Phillips said referring to returning to class C after three years as a Class D contender. “Never thought we would come out 19-0 but we just keep winning. Now we are back in the finals. The kids set their goals and they know it is not a good season unless they go to the finals.”

Butler finished his one hit performance with eight strike outs.

“I have had three complete games in a row and it [the no-hitter] was on my mind,” he said. “Probably not a good thing but I was looking at the scoreboard every time including when the one ball bounced off the bag [throwing error in the top of the fifth]. I was looking to see it if was a hit or an error.”

Yacowenia finished with three singles, three stolen bases and two runs scored, while Fureno had a double, single RBI, stolen base and two runs scored, while Thibodeau added a double, single, stolen base and two RBIs. Cortese added a double and Gifford had a single as they both collected RBIs.

“Aggressiveness on the bases was big for us today,” Phillips said after his 796th career victory. “We didn’t make any mistakes on the bases. We had nine hits and committed one error. I felt they played a complete game and I am proud of them.”

Saturday’s Class C championship game will pit the Hilltoppers (19-0) against a long time rival in Hoosick Falls coached by veteran coach Mike Lilac.

“We win because we have an outstanding coaching staff from P.J. Brown, to John Fureno to Phil Thibodeau to Brian Cronkhite who does all the paperwork,” Phillips said. “They have done a great job all year and we wouldn’t be where we are without them. I like to play Hoosick Falls because Michael [Coach Mike Lilac] is one of my best friends and we have coached against each other for 35 years.”

Class C semifinal

Fort Plain 6, Greenwich 1

Greenwich 000 000 1 — 1 2 0

Fort Plain 110 022 x — 6 8 1

O’Brien, Curtis (5) and Mosher; Butler, Gifford (7) and Fureno.

Class A semifinal

Averill Park 3,

Amsterdam 2,

13 innings

ALBANY — Amsterdam took a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning only to have Averill Park tie the game with an RBI single from Joe Milanese.

The Rams put a runner on in the bottom of the inning but could not get the go ahead run as the game continued into extra innings.

The Warriors and Rams battled to the 13th inning before Anthony Childrose scored Milanese with a squeeze bunt for a 3-2 lead that, despite getting the tying run to third, the Rams could not get the big hit they needed as their season came to a close.

Amsterdam finished the season with a 18-2 overall record and 14-0 in the Foothills Council.

By Paul Wager

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