BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — He’d hit a batter and walked another to start the May 19 game. Partially covering his face with his baseball glove, Shenendehowa senior Ian Anderson stalked behind the mound in frustration.
When the projected first-round pick in this June’s Major League Baseball amateur draft turned back toward home plate, he saw a familiar sight. Twin brother Ben Anderson — older by a couple minutes — had left his catcher’s crouch and was making the walk to calm down his sibling.
The conversation was a quick one. Ian Anderson said it went well, that his brother delivered the words of encouragement he needed.
Ben Anderson, a smile playing on his face, told the truth.
“I asked him if he wanted to throw curves because he was throwing all his fastballs high, maybe change it up a little — and he didn’t want that,” Ben Anderson said.
So, basically, he told you just to get back behind the plate?
“Yeah, he did,” Ben Anderson confirmed.
Then, Ian Anderson started mixing his curveball in with his mid-90s fastball, just like his catcher requested. Ninety minutes later, the brothers were high-fiving after the last of Ian Anderson’s 12 strikeouts ended his one-hitter in top-seeded Shenendehowa’s 8-0 victory against Columbia in the Section II Class AA quarterfinals.
“He had his stuff, his confidence,” Ben Anderson said of his twin, who was making only his third start of the season. “He had the attitude he always has.”
And, Ben Anderson helped Ian Anderson channel all that into his season’s best performance. In the moment, Ian Anderson was not happy to see his brother when he ventured out to him, but he knew in retrospect that the quick conference had been exactly what he’d needed.
“When he comes out there, you know, you settle down. He’s going to have my back . . . and he caught a hell of a game,” Ian Anderson said of his brother, who will pitch next season at Binghamton University. “I don’t think any balls got by him — he was blocking some pretty good pitches — so anytime he comes out, it is comforting and he knows how to settle you down, get you refocused.”
Columbia head coach Chris Dedrick said his team knew it needed to get to Ian Anderson early to have a shot at upsetting Shenendehowa on its home field. When his team ended that first inning scoreless, Dedrick said it was too big a missed opportunity to overcome.
“It was lights out from there,” Dedrick said. “Once [Ian Anderson] settled in, his fastball location was excellent. His breaking pitch was getting over and he could throw it for an out pitch if he needed it.”
After the first two Blue Devils reached based, Ian Anderson retired the next nine hitters he faced. He allowed a walk to start the fourth inning and a hit to start the fifth, but nothing else. Primarily pitching out of the windup added some extra pop to Anderson’s fastball, which was an advantage Columbia couldn’t overcome.
“That [extra speed] put him past where we could really put the ball in play against him,” Dedrick said.
Meanwhile, the Shenendehowa offense took care of its business. The Plainsmen plated three in the first inning and scored in each of their final three frames to provide Anderson with more support than he needed. Senior second baseman Nik Malachowski had two hits including an RBI double in the first inning, while junior designated hitter Mike Spulnick had a two-RBI single in the fourth.
Shenendehowa senior right fielder Richard Drum said Spulnick’s hit was the most important one of the day for the Plainsmen. After struggling with leaving runners on base during the regular season, Spulnick’s hit followed senior third baseman Frank Pizzo’s pop-out with a pair in scoring position.
“But then Spulnick comes right up and picks him up with a base hit right up the middle,” said Drum, who went 1-for-2 with an RBI and two runs scored.
Senior first baseman Mike Jeffers also had two RBIs for the Plainsmen, while Pizzo picked up an RBI with a sacrifice bunt.
Two days after besting Columbia, Shenendehowa clinched its spot in the May 26 championship game with a 4-3 victory against Guilderland.
Shenendehowa’s Ben Anderson picked up the win with five innings of work, and Malachowski picked up a six-out save. Anderson allowed three runs and struck out five, while Malachowski struck out three Dutchmen and allowed one batter to reach base.
“They put pressure on us throughout the whole game,” Malachowski said of the Dutchmen. “But the biggest thing for us is we have a lot of chemistry on this team. We’re not going to go down without a fight.”
“It was a tough game, but we have a lot of guys prepared for a game like this,” Anderson said.
Shenendehowa (No. 1, 17-5) erased two separate leads Guilderland held in the game. The Dutchmen led 2-0 in the first inning and 3-2 in the fifth. Each time the Plainsmen fell behind, though, they quickly battled back.
Malachowski batted in a run during the first inning, and center fielder Kevin Huerter had a game-tying RBI double in the second inning for Shenendehowa. Later, Huerter made an even bigger play when he threw a tagging runner out at home in the third inning for an inning-ending double play.
“We’ve seen that [type of throw] for a couple years now,” Christodulu said of Huerter’s play. “That’s no surprise.”
Guilderland went ahead in the fifth inning on pitcher Nick Bruno’s second RBI single of the game, but more damage was prevented when Shenendehowa left fielder Joe Palko threw another Dutchmen runner out at home plate. In the Plainsmen’s half of the inning, Huerter scored the tying run on a Guilderland throwing error and Palko — who had reached base after striking out on a pitch in the dirt — scored the game-winning run on another Dutchmen error.
“They just kept grinding and grinding,” Christodulu said of his team. “They refused [to lose], they just refused, and were relentless all night.”
Bruno took the loss for Guilderland, allowing three earned runs while going the distance. He struck out six and threw 110 pitches.
Second baseman Cameron Myers had three hits for Guilderland, while Shenendehowa shortstop Nick Jacques went 3-for-4 and Huerter was 2-for-3.