BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — North Salem’s run through the regionals and the state final four was filled with drama and intense moments with the game on the line in the late innings. In the regionals, North Salem won both games by just one run. In the semifinals, the Tigers were 90-feet from a loss and were able to pull through.
But in the state championship game, North Salem’s baseball team was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
The Tigers jumped all over Section 10’s Potsdam, building a five-run lead in the first inning as they cruised to a 7-3 victory to win their second consecutive Class C state title on Saturday, June 10, at Binghamton University.
“We feel on top of the world right now,” senior Connor Mahoney said.
It’s rare for a team in a sport like baseball to win two consecutive state titles.
“That first one was sweet, but it’s really special to go back-to-back,” North Salem coach Rob Gilchrist said. “We knew we had the team to do it. Once we got here, we left it all on the field.”
Nate Carminucci started the offensive surge with a two-run double to make it 2-0. Jesse Fleming added an RBI single to pad the lead. Following a single from Rian Balbino, freshman Michael Puletz, the designated hitter, smacked a two out, two-run single to stretch the lead to 5-0.
“When we put that five-spot on the board it was nice,” Gilchrist said. “We play loose and we play confident, but it did help to have five runs up on the board.”
It was all the run support senior J.B. Healy needed.
Healy tossed a complete game three-hitter, while striking out eight batters and walking just one. His key to success was getting ahead of hitters with first-pitch strikes.
“The five-run lead was huge, but I think getting ahead with the fastball today was very big for me,” Healy said.
The Tigers had a late night as they didn’t get out of the semifinal until after 9 p.m. and the state final was at 10 a.m. the next morning, but they showed no ill effects as their offense erupted early.
“We had momentum from late in the game yesterday and were feeling good about ourselves,” Mahoney said. “Everyone had confidence. Then we come into the first inning this game and put up five. We kind of strung the hits into this game. I was looking for fastballs early in the count. And after I went up there I told everyone the same thing. We kind of got flat (offensively) in the mid innings, but then got it back later and that sealed the deal.”
Potsdam’s bats came alive in the fourth inning when they doubled and singled with two outs to cut the Tiger lead to 5-2.
Mahoney, who finished 3 for 3, smoked a two-out double to add some insurance runs in the bottom of the fourth inning.
“They have a refuse to lose attitude,” Gilchrist said. “The majority of the team’s we have faced in Section 1 were throwing their No. 1 at us. The six losses that we had prepared us for this run.”
Balbino, who is just a sophomore, was the hero in the semifinals. He entered from center field, relieving the starter Mahoney in a tie game in the seventh inning with the bases loaded with one out. He induced a strikeout and a groundout to get out of the jam.
“I tried not to think about it—whatever happens, happens,” Balbino said. “Just come in and throw strikes and get the job done.”
The Tigers’ heart rates went up a few notches with the winning run 90-feet from home plate, but Balbino helped their nerves subside.
“It was unbelievable,” Gilchrist said. “He came in and threw strikes. One passed ball, one hit batsman and the season was over.”
In the ninth inning, Balbino also came through at the plate, delivering the go-ahead single and the Tiger offense exploded from there to secure a 6-2 win over Section 5’s Avon at NYSEG Stadium on Friday, June 9.
“We’re a strong team, we have good chemistry and we pick each other up,” Mahoney said. “Balbino picked me up huge—he picked everyone up.”
In the following inning, an Avon baserunner reached third base with one out, but Balbino was able to wriggle out of the jam again.
“He’s the last piece of our pitching staff,” Healy said of Balbino. “He really brings us together and closes out the games whenever he goes in. We know he’s going to throw strikes and get the job done.”
Concadoro had a two-run triple in the ninth inning. Carminucci and Anthony D’Innocenzo each added an RBI apiece.
Mahoney was a magician through six innings, but ran into trouble in the seventh when he began to tire as he finished with 125 pitches. He allowed two earned runs and three hits, while striking out 13 batters over 6.1 innings.
It was the pitching that played a big role in North Salem’s run. With two stud starters in Healy and Mahoney, and a shut-down closer in Balbino, the Tigers had more adequate arms than the majority of Class C teams.
“Our pitching was great up here this weekend,” Gilchrist said. “Connor (Mahoney) led us off last night, Rian (Balbino) came in and saved the season. J.B. (Healy) gave us a senior performance just now. All three guys did their job.”
The Tigers had a sensational group of seven seniors led by Mahoney, Healy, Concadoro, Foglia and Fleming.
“What a ton of experience we had this year,” Gilchrist said. “We relied heavily on those guys. The younger guys on the team learned from those guys—how they play and how they take their approach to practice, playing the games and what it takes to be prepared. It was a great experience at the same time for the younger guys.”
An experienced group that had been there before proved to be a major factor in their run.
“We don’t lose our composure in those tight situations,” Healy said. “We know what it takes to win and we’re able to execute.”
North Salem, which will move up to Class B next year, has left its mark on Section 1 over the past two years and finished its season at 18-6.
“I think we’re the strongest team in North Salem history,” Balbino said. “We never give up and we’ve got a lot of fight.”
The Tigers hit a few bumps in the road during the regular season but they turned up the dial when it mattered the most during sectionals, regionals and states.
“Once we get to playoff time we know how to win,” Healy said. “We’re going to amp it up and get ready for the postseason and we were able to make it all the way here and win.
“It’s huge for all the seniors to do it again and let everyone know it’s not a fluke. It’s great to go out on top.”