BY MICHAEL KELLY
TROY — Down a run after a two-error defensive third inning, Ian Anderson reminded his Shenendehowa baseball teammates there was no reason to worry.
“Hey,” the pitcher called out, taking his seat in the dugout. “We’ve been here before.”
Plus, he was on the mound.
“Definitely the best I’ve seen Ian,” Shenendehowa senior shortstop Nick Jacques said. “He was consistent throughout and he was throwing really hard. I haven’t seen him throw that hard all year.”
Anderson, making his last start before the June 9 Major League Baseball amateur draft, struck out 16 Cicero-North Syracuse batters in Shenendehowa’s 5-1 comeback victory in the June 4 Class AA regional championship game.
The right-handed senior allowed two hits, two walks and an unearned run. Anderson faced 10 different Cicero hitters during the course of the contest, and struck each of them out at least once.
At one point, Anderson worked his mid-90s fastball to record 14 of 15 outs via strikeout between the second and seventh innings. The pitcher struck out the final batter of the second inning, recorded three strikeouts apiece in the third, fifth and sixth, and struck out a pair in both the fourth and seventh during that stretch.
He also struck out two batters in the first inning.
“He’s starting to peak,” Shenendehowa head coach Greg Christodulu said of his ace, who missed nearly all of April between injury and illness. “He’s into his rhythm.”
Shenendehowa (19-5) fell behind Cicero-North Syracuse (Section III, 18-6) in the top of the third inning at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium after back-to-back two-base throwing errors from senior second baseman Nik Malachowski and Jacques allowed Cicero to score a run. That duo made up for the mistakes at the plate in the same inning, as the pair sandwiched a walk to junior left fielder Joe Palko with base hits.
“We knew we had to step up and be senior leaders, just like our coaches tell us,” said Jacques, who was 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Senior first baseman Joe Fraser and senior right fielder Richard Drum each followed Malachowski’s bunt single — an attempted sacrifice on which he reached base — with RBI sacrifice flies.
“We really focused, put together some good at-bats, and we got the runs back quick,” Fraser said.
More Shenendehowa offense followed in the next inning, That’s when Jacques’ RBI single came, and a wild pitch two batters later during Malachowski’s plate appearance resulted in both Jacques and Palko — who was 3-for-3 with a walk — scoring on the play.
Staked to a four-run lead, Anderson recorded the next eight outs for Shenendehowa through the strikeout. A weak grounder to Fraser at first base broke the streak of strikeouts and ended the game.
“Pitching with a lead, can’t thank my teammates enough,” Anderson said. “It makes it a lot easier out there.”
So, too, did Cicero’s tendency to take the first pitch of at-bats against Anderson. Able to locate his fastball from start to finish, Anderson threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 27 hitters he faced during the course of a 100-pitch outing.
Shenendehowa will play West Islip (Section XI, 25-5) on June 11 at 10 a.m. at Binghamton University. If the Plainsmen win, they will play in the day’s 4 p.m. state championship game.
“Can’t believe it,” Malachowski said walking off the field after the win. “State final four, baby.”
Christodulu came up short of confirming Anderson’s attendance on the mound for the state semifinal. Indirectly, though, he suggested his stud pitcher would see the first game of a potential doubleheader.
“There’s a strong possibility,” the coach said with a smile. “You have to win to advance, how about that?”
Before his final day as a high school pitcher, Anderson will attend the MLB draft in New Jersey. He said he’s excited for that experience — and more so for the one two days later.
“There’s nothing more I’m looking forward to than playing in Binghamton with these guys, playing for our last time together,” he said of a Plainsmen squad which includes his twin brother Ben Anderson, the team’s catcher, and 10 more of his classmates. “Hopefully we come out on top.”