HORSEHEADS - Behind a freshman pitcher, No.4 seeded Corning knocked off Southern Tier Athletic Conference Champion and No.1 seeded Horseheads Friday in the Section IV Class AA semifinals, 3-2.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been as proud of a group of kids than I am with these kids tonight,” Corning head coach Eric Kizis said. “[Horseheads] are a really good baseball team. I put the ball in the hands of a ninth grader and he was extraordinary tonight. He did an incredible job.”
Freshman Aiden Chamberlin tossed six innings allowing only one earned run, fanning eight batters and allowing only three hits.
“He’s in ninth grade, but he’s mature in baseball experience,” said Kizis.
This was the first time this season the Blue Raiders had seen Chamberlin, by design, with Kizis saving the fantastic freshman for this very situation.
“We knew that if we got in to sectionals, we’d be the four seed and [Horseheads] would be the one seed, so we held him out purposely.” said Kizis. “It took them time to get adjusted to him. They had a few hits, they scored on a passed ball, but he was truly dominant tonight.”
Offensively, the Hawks wasted no time, striking in the first inning when Adam Zingler took the second pitch of the day to right field for a double followed by an Chamberlin single that gave Corning an early 1-0 advantage.
“That leadoff double from Adam, was huge,” Kizis said. “We don’t score in the first inning very often. I don’t think we win the game if we don’t score in the first inning.”
Corning added to its lead in the next inning with a Blake VanWoert RBI single and a Jacob Freeland short fly ball to center field that dropped in to give the Hawks a 3-0 lead after two frames.
After two regular season losses to the Blue Raiders, a 5-1 loss in Horseheads and a 6-5 defeat at home, Friday's three run lead after two innings was crucial.
“It gave me a ton of confidence,” said Chamberlin. “Pitching with a three run lead is huge. I knew that I just had to go out there and do my job.”
Horseheads threatened in the third inning, loading the bases with nobody out.
A Henry Juan RBI single to cut the lead to 3-1, but Chamberlin was able to force a lineout, a strikeout and a fielder's choice to end the threat.
The Blue Raiders added another run in the fifth inning. A walk to Mike Limoncelli and an errant pickoff throw put Limoncelli on third and he darted home on a wild pitch to pull Horseheads to within one run at 3-2.
Chamberlin gave way to Tanner Kizis in the seventh inning after throwing a 117 pitch gem and maximum number of pitches according to state rules.
Tanner Kizis retired the first batter with a popup to short then walked the next batter and fell behind in the count 3-0 to Mike Limoncelli.
“One of our assistant coaches told me, ‘free and clear’ for my mind,” said Tanner Kizis. “As soon as my dad [head coach Eric Kizis] came out and talked to me, free and clear is all I thought. I took a deep breath and threw it right in there.”
Tanner Kizis battled back to strike out Limoncelli the next three pitches, but threw eight of his next 10 pitches out of the zone to load the bases with two outs.
Adam Cook lifted a fly ball to left-center field on the first pitch of the at bat that settled in Zingler’s glove to complete the upset.
“I just knew I had to throw it over the plate and get an out,” said Tanner Kizis.
Zingler led the way for the Hawks with two doubles and a run scored and Noah Walker added two hits and a run scored.
Corning will advance to play No. 2 seeded Ithaca in a best-of-three series starting Monday in Ithaca at 4:30. The Hawks and Little Red split the regular season series 1-1.
“We’re two pretty evenly matched teams,” said Kizis. “They’re a little deeper than us offensively, but we’re ready to go to Ithaca. Game one is going to be a big one. We have to dig deep in the pitching staff. Winning game one and bringing it back to Corning will be big for the series.”