Mohawks battle back to top Elmira, maintain lead in PGCBL East

Focusing on the fundamentals of the game can bring positive results in any sport. Sometimes it can turn a game that appears lost into a victory. Monday night, the Amsterdam Mohawks used a little bit of defense, a few key hits, a steal of home, and some clutch pitching from its bullpen during a solid, fundamental, come from behind win over the Elmira Pioneers 11-8, at Shuttleworth Park.

“This is a team that is continually getting better,” Mohawks manager Keith Griffin said. “From the first pitch to the last pitch of the season we continue to evolve.”

The Mohawks found themselves down by five runs early after a grand slam by Elmira’s Marshall Gilbert put the Pioneers up 5-0 in the top of the second inning. Amsterdam never panicked and responded with five runs  of their own in the bottom half of the frame keyed by back-to-back RBI singles from Chris Hamilton and John Valente, and a two-run double by Liam Wilson. Amsterdam sent eleven men to the plate, with eight reaching base started by Eric Rivera’s double into the left field corner. Rivera, Hamilton, Valente, Will Holland, and Jake Mueller all scored to knot things up at 5-5 and give the Mohawks bullpen a chance to stop any Elmira rally.

Left-hander Eliot Anderson took over the pitching duties for fellow southpaw Holden White, and Anderson had an immediate impact getting ground-ball-outs that resulted in a pair of infield double plays that ended the third and fifth innings, and set the Pioneers down in order in the fourth without the ball leaving the infield. Anderson gave up only one run through three innings of work to earn the win, then Coach Griffin turned things over to right-handers Brandon Reitz and Carter Knapek to close out the game.

“We got some big hits and then Eliot (Anderson) shut them down,” Griffin said. “Then we went to our righties and put it on the two big guys to end the game. We knew this would be a bullpen game tonight and we came out and played well and our guys came through.”

With the bullpen keeping Elmira from posting another big inning, the Mohawks needed a clutch hit or two to take the lead. Twice, Dan Maynard was the right man at the right moment. Maynard connected for his second home run of the season leading off the bottom of the third inning with a drive over the big wall in left field giving Amsterdam a 6-5 advantage. Maynard came through for the home team again in the bottom of the fifth with an RBI single to score Rivera for a 7-6 lead, and one the Mohawks would not surrender.

Maynard was also part of a Mohawks defense that had a habit of erasing Pioneers base runners. The Amsterdam catcher came up big in the top of the eighth when he fired a strike to second on a base stealing attempt by Elmira lead off hitter Noah Hughes, for the first out of the inning. The Amsterdam infield of shortstop Will Holland, second baseman Jake Mueller, and first baseman Liam Wilson turned three double plays on the night including the last one to end the game.

“Defensively, I felt we did a good job,” Griffin said. “We were pretty solid except for a play in center field where the ball got by the fielder, but overall I thought everything went pretty well.”

Amsterdam put together a three run outburst in the bottom of the sixth with three infield singles by Valente, Mueller, and Wilson. Rivera drove in one run with an RBI grounder, and Dylan Reynolds plated two more after his grounder to second turned into an infield error, the Pioneers third of the game. Amsterdam led 10-6 entering the seventh inning where Elmira plated a couple of runs on a double off the bat of Gilbert, and an outfield error cutting the lead to 10-8. But the Mohawks had one more strong fundamental play to give the fans something to cheer about.

Valente singled for his third hit of the game with two out in the bottom of the seventh and moved all the way to third on a stolen base and an error. The next batter Mueller walked, and as he stole second to draw the throw, Valente stole home for the last score of the game. Aside from Maynard’s lead off home run, the Mohawks scored the majority of their runs when there were two out. Valente’s steal of home put Amsterdam up by three runs, 11-8, and was significant when Elmira put two men on and brought the tying run to bat in the top of the ninth before Knapek and the Mohawks infield ended any hope of a Pioneers comeback.

“We did a really good job in stealing bases,” added Griffin.

Valente led Amsterdam with three hits, three runs, and an RBI. Maynard’s two hits drove in two runs. Mueller drove in a pair of runs and scored a run, and Rivera scored a pair of runs for Amsterdam (25-7). With the win, the Mohawks kept a firm grip on first place in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League (PGCBL) East Division. Amsterdam leads second place Mohawk Valley by three games.

Marshall Gilbert drove in a game high five runs for Elmira (17-16). Colton Evans had two hits and scored three runs for the Pioneers.

The Mohawks continue their PGCBL 2017 season traveling to Oneonta on Wednesday for a 6:35pm contest with the Outlaws. The Mohawks return home on Thursday for a game against the Newark Pilots. Game time is also scheduled for 6:35pm.

Scott Mulford

Scott Mulford has been covering local sports for over 20 years. He previously wrote for the Amsterdam Star and The Free Press of the Mohawk Valley.