LAKELAND, N.Y.— Joe Vetrano’s dominant pitching performance in the Class A regional championship game would have been all for naught if Lakeland was unable to push a run across home plate.
Matt Schenck had his back.
The senior captain delivered a bases-clearing triple in the top of the seventh and Vetrano closed out a complete game one-hitter to propel Lakeland to a 3-0 win over Section 9’s Cornwall on Saturday, June 2.
“That’s my boy,” Vetrano said of Schenck. “I told him before he went up there, I was like, ‘Hey, take us to the state semis, baby. Let’s go.’ I knew they had my back. Once I finished the fifth inning, I was like they’ve got my back. We’re going to do it.”
Lakeland advances to its first state final four since 2010. It will face Wantagh of Section 8 on Friday, June 8, at 2 p.m. in the Class A state semifinals at Binghamton University.
“I’m in a little shock to be honest with you,” Lakeland coach Bill Casey said. “We’re in the state semifinals. I don’t even know how to describe that right now. But what Vetrano did today, he was better today than he was last week (in the section final). He loves the fact that his team backs him up and what he did out there was unbelievable. It was amazing, and he was pumping the strike zone. He was working fast.”
The seventh inning started with Zach Cohen, who reached first base after the throw pulled the Cornwall first baseman off the bag. Eric Portella drew a walk on a 3-2 count. Vetrano then came up and popped out in foul territory. Evan Berta walked on four pitches to load the bases.
Schenck was up next and he was ready for his opportunity.
The right-hander took one the other way and the sinking line drive scooted past a diving right fielder and all the way to the wall.
“Our team was hitting the ball hard all day and we were waiting for that one hit to land through,” Schenck said. “It just happened to be me. It was a great feeling. But the whole team worked hard for this one and it was really rewarding at the end when we pulled it off.”
Casey said that Schenck has been clutch throughout the playoffs, where he has registered eight hits.
“He’s our No. 3 hitter for a reason,” Casey said. “He swings the bat hard and he came up big today. That’s what Matt Schenck did. He’s been struggling a little bit at third and he doesn’t take it out on his at-bats. I’m very happy for Matt.”
The 6-foot-3 left-hander Vetrano was flat-out unhittable from the start. He threw 66 of his 85 pitches for strikes while striking out 11 batters. He struck out seven of the first nine Green Dragon hitters and had multiple one-two-three innings.
Cornwall had a baserunner reach third with two outs in the sixth but Vetrano induced a groundout to escape the jam.
Lakeland threatened offensively from the get-go but couldn’t capitalize until the seventh. The Hornets had the bases loaded in the second inning but Cornwall (19-4) got out of it with a double play. They stranded at least one runner in each of the first six innings.
When asked if he was ready to pitch again in the state semifinals, Vetrano didn’t hesitate with his response.
“I want the ball—bottom line,” Vetrano said.
A win in the semifinals will advance the Hornets to the championship game on June 9 at 4 p.m. at NYSEG Stadium in Binghamton.
“We want to make history,” Vetrano said. “If we have each other’s backs, ‘Why not?’ They said we were too young, we won the section. It proves them wrong. No one thought we could do this and we proved them wrong again.”
A youthful Lakeland (15-9) team with 10 sophomores on the roster and just two senior starters will pursue the program’s first state title this weekend.
“All year we’ve been saying, ‘Why not us?’ Who cares if we’re young,” Schenck said. “We have the talent to make it happen.”
And their head coach couldn’t be prouder.
“If you asked my coaches and me in March (if we would be in the state final four), we probably would have said you were a little crazy,” Casey said. “We believe in them, but from where they were in preseason, Florida and through ups and downs during the year, to now come through with this winning streak that we’ve had in the playoffs at the right time, it means the world to me. I’m extremely happy for them.”