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Bombers storm into state quarters

June 1, 2018
By LOU REUTER - Senior Sports Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - After ending a two-year title drought with a dramatic 2-1 victory over Crown Point a week ago in the Section VII, Class D championship game, the Lake Placid baseball team is one win away from advancing to the state final four tournament for the first time in 23 years.

And standing in the Blue Bombers way is Madrid-Waddington, the Section X champion. The two teams square off Saturday at noon at SUNY Plattsburgh's Chip Cummings Field, with the winner advancing to the state Class D semifinal round next weekend in Binghamton. The Yellowjackets carry a 10-1 record into the contest, which includes their latest victory, a 6-2 triumph over Heuvelton in Section X's Class D final on Tuesday. In that game, Madrid-Waddington clawed its way back from a 2-1 deficit by scoring five runs in the six inning to take control and avenge last year's loss to the Bulldogs in the title tilt. Heuvelton was also the lone team that beat the Yellowjackets this season.

Lake Placid owns a 9-8 mark and carries a five-game win streak into Saturday, which includes three playoff victories where the Blue Bombers held their opponent to just four combined runs.

Article Photos

Lake Placid junior Jesse Izzo walks off the mound after getting the final out during the Blue Bombers’ playoff victory over Bolton-Schroon Lake in the Section VII, Class D semifinal round. Izzo will be Lake Placid’s starting pitcher in Saturday’s state playoff game against Madrid-Waddington.
(News photo — Lou Reuter)

Blue Bombers head coach Brian Brandes said defense has been a big focus for his team since the start of the season, and added his players didn't have much of an opportunity to work on that aspect of their game until they got some good weather for outdoor practice time after a late-ending winter.

"Good defense has been in our conversation all year," Brandes said. "Early in the season, we'd have nine errors, we'd have 10 errors. We had some tough games, but right from the start, we told the kids you have to believe. We're going to get better. We knew we have the bats, we knew we have the arms. Putting people in the right places it took some time, and it's really come together."

Brandes went on to say "The best part of a good defense is a good pitcher," and said that three Blue Bombers juniors - Jesse Izzo, Scott Sharlow and Jake Coursen - emerged as the go-to-players on the mound.

Izzo will be Lake Placid's starter on Saturday, and Brandes said he is the hardest thrower of the trio. Sharlow, who spins the ball more, will be available in later innings if needed, with Coursen ready in a role of closer.

Sharlow heads into the game with a hot bat. He was hovering around the .300 mark at the end of the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference season and has pushed that average up to the .350 range after three strong offensive performances in playoff games. Catcher Duncan Segger has been an offensive spark at the top of the order, senior Colin Hayes has followed in the lineup with a capable bat, and Coursen and freshman Matt Brandes have been finding recent success in the middle of the order.

Brandes and his players familiarized themselves with their opponent by taking a trip to St. Lawrence University on Tuesday to watch the Yellowjackets and Bulldogs play in the Section X final. Brandes said there's no doubt that the Blue Bombers will face a formidable team.

"They play in the west division in Section X, and they've only played Class D teams, but they are good," Brandes said. "I think they've outscored their opponents 89-19 in the regular season. They hit the ball well, they've scored a lot of runs and it looks like they are a seasoned team."

Madrid-Waddington is coached by Justin Richard, who in his ninth season leading the team. The Yellowjackets are a veteran group with 10 seniors, and Richard said it's a class that has found plenty of success not only as baseball players, but also on the soccer field and the basketball court.

"They've been in big games before. They know how to handle themselves in tough situations," he said. "The kids are really excited to go out and play."

Richard described his players as hard workers who are determined. He pointed out that many of his players have been gathering for batting practice early in the morning before the start of classes and then getting in another session after school during team practice.

Shane Tiernan leads a solid Madrid-Waddington pitching staff and will be the starter on Saturday. The senior enters the matchup after fanning 24 batters during the Yellowjackets two most recent playoff victories. Richard said his team is solid in the field and at the plate.

"Our pitching is a forte, our defense is very good, our hitting is good," Richard said. "We've been able to limit the other teams' opportunities, and we've found ways to get ourselves out of jams. When we've needed them, we've gotten some big plays from the guys."

Richard said his club has a strong top of the order, where senior catcher Owen Uppstrom has been solid as the Yellowjackets' leadoff hitter. Junior Braydon Bush is also a threat at the plate, and has been solid defensively at first base, where he has played error-free baseball all season long. Senior Ryan VanPatten has been another standout for Madrid-Waddington defensively at third base and also with his bat.

The number 23 looms big for both teams in this matchup. That's the number of years that have passed since Lake Placid last reached the final four. The Blue Bombers lost in the semifinals back in 1995, which was the season following their run to a state championship title. And for the Yellowjackets, 1995 marked the last year they won a Section X crown and moved into the state playoff round.



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