Al­liance de­fy­ing the odds

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - SPORTS - COREY LEBLANC

The Niagara District Base­ball As­so­ci­a­tion se­nior men’s semi­fi­nals brought some of the most dra­matic mo­ments from the di­a­mond all sum­mer.

The Mer­rit­ton Al­liance con­tinue to defy the odds and knocked off the top-seeded Niagara Falls Ex­pos, af­ter climb­ing out of a 1-0 se­ries deficit and win­ning the fi­nal two games in come­back fash­ion.

“I have to­tal re­spect for the Al­liance. They are a vet­eran team that never quits and fights un­til the end and they got hot at the right time,” Ex­pos coach Bob Ethier said.

“We beat them in the first game be­cause we never let up. In the sec­ond and third games, we had good starts and leads, but could not keep the lead. We just couldn’t put them away… This year so far in the play­offs we have seen more se­ries go three games, which is a good sign for the fu­ture of the league.”

For the Al­liance, this is their sec­ond up­set of the post sea­son so far. They won their first-round se­ries against the Thorns in three games as well, with two of those games need­ing ex­tra in­nings.

Mer­rit­ton is also com­ing off a sec­ond-place fin­ish in the A divi­sion of the On­tario Base­ball As­so­ci­a­tion year-end tour­na­ment. The red and white have had the strong­est out­ings th­ese past weeks have their sights set on an­other NDBA cham­pi­onship.

On the other side of the bracket, the Fort Erie Can­nons and Wel­land Chiefs be­gan their se­ries on Fri­day night in Wel­land af­ter Thurs­day night game in Fort Erie was can­celled due to in­clement weather.

Af­ter win­ning the first of two games in a home-and-home that saw both teams score 11 runs, the Can­nons en­tered the night with a chance to make their third con­sec­u­tive fi­nal.

In the third and fi­nal game, the lead switched hands four times over seven in­nings, with Pat Gi­ampaolo walk­ing off the Chiefs with a three-run homerun in the game of the week.

ON DECK THIS WEEK

Fol­low­ing are the up­com­ing games in the Niagara District Base­ball As­so­ci­a­tion se­nior men’s divi­sion. Ad­mis­sion to all games is free.

Mon­day: Mer­rit­ton Al­liance at Fort Erie Can­nons; 8 p.m.; Oakes Park (FE).

Wed­nes­day: Fort Erie Can­nons at Mer­rit­ton Al­liance; 8:15 p.m.; Ge­orge Tay­lor Field.

Thurs­day: Mer­rit­ton Al­liance at Fort Erie Can­nons; 8 p.m.; Oakes Park (FE). **If nec­es­sary**

GAME OF THE WEEK – Gi­ampaolo hails to the Chiefs

The Fort Erie Can­nons punched their ticket to the NDBA fi­nals for the third-straight sea­son in walk-off fash­ion on Wed­nes­day night against the Wel­land Chiefs.

In a game that saw four balls leave the yard be­tween the two teams, Pat Gi­ampaolo de­liv­ered the fin­ish­ing blow in the form of a three-run homerun off Chiefs’ re­liever Eric Con­lon over the short right-field fence at Oakes Park in Fort Erie.

“I was lucky enough to square it up. Hav­ing home field ad­van­tage worked out for us hav­ing the short porch in right,” Gi­ampaolo said, shortly af­ter get­ting drenched by the con­tents of a cooler. “We faced Con­lon mul­ti­ple times this year and he’s owned me… my first at bat he started me with a first-pitch fast­ball, so I went up look­ing first­pitch fast­ball and I got it.”

“It was a bat­tle the whole game, ku­dos to the Chiefs for tak­ing us all the way.”

The Chiefs gave the ball to Mitch Butler in game three and the young right han­der was shaken up. Butler gave up six runs, in­clud­ing two home runs and a dou­ble, five walks and struck out one in 1+ in­nings.

The Can­nons quickly opened up a 6-1 lead by the end of the sec­ond in­ning.

His coun­ter­part, Ge­or­dan Den­na­hower of the Can­nons, started the game strong un­til giv­ing up a three-run homerun to Zack Fer­nan­dez in the third.

The Chiefs would take a 7-6 lead af­ter a three-run fourth in­ning that saw the Can­nons com­mit two of their five er­rors on the night, af­ter play­ing seven in­nings of clean base­ball just two nights prior.

“I think the key thing I like to con­vey for us is the char­ac­ter of this team. Guys don’t give up they don’t quit. That’s what we’ve been try­ing to in­still,” Chiefs man­ager Larry Stephens said.

Den­na­hower’s night would end af­ter cen­ter­fielder Frank Bar­ber reached on a throw­ing er­ror by short­stop Steve Ole­niuk. The Can­nons’ starter pitched 3+ in­nings, al­lowed six runs (one un­earned), six hits and struck out one bat­ter.

Gi­ampaolo pitched the last four in­nings, and gave up three runs on five hits and struck out one to earn the vic­tory on the mound as well.

Wel­land re­lied heav­ily on re­lief pitcher Eric Con­lon, who pitched the fi­nal six frames for the Chiefs, keep­ing them in con­tention long enough to take the lead. Con­lon threw six in­nings, al­lowed four runs, six hits, two walks and struck out two bat­ters for the loss.

“Eric has been an ab­so­lute beast all year and if it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t be in this sit­u­a­tion,” Stephens said. “We bat­tled all year, we bat­tled in this se­ries and we just come out one run short. But, we over­came a 6-1 deficit and there’s just no quit, I couldn’t be prouder.”

By the bot­tom of the seventh, the Chiefs held a 9-7 lead, un­til one of the long­est-serv­ing mem­bers of the Can­nons fin­ished the game with two run­ners on.

Gi­ampaolo struck the ball hard to right field, just nar­rowly eclips­ing the short fence in right field to com­plete the come­back and earn the 10-7 vic­tory.

“He’s been do­ing that for us for about the last 10 years now. He’s prob­a­bly got about 30-40 home­runs ca­reer home­runs for us. We have all the faith in the world in him, that’s why he’s in the three­spot,” Can­nons’ man­ager Justin Hall said.

“Adam Fowler, a team­mate of ours, calls us the ‘car­diac Can­nons’ be­cause we find a way to win, es­pe­cially late in the game. Boys never gave up tonight and we know es­pe­cially at this park that if you get some guys on, some­body is go­ing to get a good swing.”

Of­fen­sively for the Can­nons: Robin Kel­lar, 2-for-3, HR; Cam Hall, 2-for-3; Gi­ampaolo, 1-for-4, HR; Ole­niuk, 1-for-3, HR; Frankie Big­gins, 1-for-2; Matt Pine, 1-for-3; Kris Hodges, 1-for-3; all picked up hits in the rub­ber match. While: Steve Mau­rice, 2-for-3; Mark Jaroslawski, 2-for-4; Ryan Dear, 2-for-4, Fer­nan­dez, 1-for4, HR; Matt Man­nella, 1-for-3; Justin War­nick, 1-for-3; Drew Chapelle, 1-for-3; Scott Cole, 1-for-4; contributed of­fen­sively for the vis­it­ing team in their fi­nal game of the 2017 cam­paign.

COREY LEBLANC/SPE­CIAL TO POSTMEDIA NEWS

The Fort Erie Can­nons will move on to play the Mer­rit­ton Al­liance in the Niagara District Base­ball As­so­ci­a­tion fi­nals af­ter Pat Gi­ampaolo (No. 93) hit a three-run homerun to walk-off the Wel­land Chiefs on Wed­nes­day night and se­cure a 10-9 win in the third and fi­nal game of the semi-fi­nal se­ries.

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