BY MICHAEL KELLY
TROY — For the third time in five days, Shenendehowa head coach Greg Christodulu called upon his team’s lone sophomore to record the biggest outs of a postseason game.
For the third time in five days, sophomore Brendan Disonell came through for the Plainsmen.
“He’s got a lot of moxie,” Christodulu said. “I’ll give him that much.”
Two days after closing out top-seeded CBA, Disonell recorded the final five outs Saturday in Shenendehowa’s 5-3 semifinal win in the Section II Class AA baseball tournament against archrival Saratoga Springs at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
Prior to recording back-to-back saves, Disonell earned the win in Tuesday’s first-round game against Troy.
“I don’t know what to say, to be honest,” said Disonell, a late-season call-up from Shenendehowa’s JV team. “Big win. I’m speechless.”
Against Saratoga Springs, Disonell inherited a 4-3 lead with one out and a runner on first in the sixth inning Thursday at The Joe. He quickly got out of that inning, received an insurance run from his offense in the top of the seventh, and then stranded runners at the corners with a strikeout to close the game.
The victory sent eighth-seeded Shenendehowa to its fifth consecutive area championship game. The Plainsmen, the defending state champions, will look to defend their sectional title Thursday at Bruno Stadium against Niskayuna, which topped La Salle Institute in Saturday’s other semifinal.
Shenendehowa (No. 8, 16-7) jumped out early against Saratoga Springs (No. 4, 16-6) with a first-inning RBI single from left fielder Joe Palko and another in the second from right fielder Kurt Forsell. Plainsmen starting pitcher Brendan Spulnick kept Saratoga Springs from scoring until the fourth inning and Shenendehowa responded to that with RBI singles from designated hitter Joe Novenche and shortstop Devin Smith in the fifth.
Spulnick exited in the sixth inning after allowing an RBI single to Saratoga Springs catcher Peter Herman to bring the Blue Streaks within 4-3, but Disonell got out of that inning and Shenendehowa catcher Kyle Douglas added to the Plainsmen’s lead with an RBI single in the seventh.
Disonell walked two Blue Streaks in the seventh, but sealed the win with his only strikeout. His coach and catcher never worried about the sophomore, who was put — again — in a big spot.
“Kid throws strikes in this situation,” Christodulu said, “you gotta put him in the game.”
“He’s solid out there,” said Douglas, who scored the game-winning run in last year’s state final for Shenendehowa. “I don’t question him at all. He’s great.”
Disonell first pitched for Shenendehowa in a May 9 game against Troy. In five appearances since that point, Disonell has allowed three earned runs in 14 innings of work, while picking up two wins, two saves and striking out 10.
“Biggest part is just making sure he’s not nervous,” Douglas said of his job catching him. “It’s a big help having his brother [junior Devin Disonell] at third.”
Spulnick picked up the win after allowing three earned runs across 5 1/3 innings, while Saratoga Springs starter Zach Vavasour took the loss after allowing a pair of runs in two-plus innings.
Designated hitter Matt Triola had two hits for Saratoga Springs, while five Plainsmen had two hits and Palko had three.
During the regular season, Saratoga Springs won 5-4 and 2-0 against Shenendehowa.
“We just didn’t get it done,” Saratoga Springs Andy Cuthbertson said of the rivals’ third meeting this season.
Instead, Shenendehowa — hit hard by graduation after last year’s state-title run — has found a way to get itself back to the area final.
“They’re getting ready to peak at the right time of the year,” Christodulu said.
INSOGNIA’S GEM LIFTS NISKAYUNA
First baseman Tyler Senecal best summed up Niskayuna pitcher Nick Insognia’s performance in the Silver Warriors’ 5-1 win over LaSalle.
“Really great. Unreal,” Senecal said. “I’ve never seen him pitch better in my life.”
Insognia struck out 13 and allowed one hit in a complete-game performance. The one run he allowed was unearned.
“Everything was working today,” Insognia said.
The right-hand pitcher for Niskayuna (No. 2, 17-4) struck out one hitter for LaSalle (No. 6, 17-5) in each of the first two innings, two apiece in the next four innings and struck out the side in the seventh.
“He just kept throwing harder every inning,” Senecal said.
“Tremendous,” added Chris Bianchi, Niskayuna’s first-year head coach.
Niskayuna’s offense made sure Insognia had the support he needed. After the Cadets took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning, Niskayuna answered with an RBI double from Senecal in the bottom half of the inning. The Silver Warriors added two runs in each of the fifth and sixth innings, with second baseman Angelo Spataro and third baseman Liam Davison each producing RBIs in the fifth. Both runs scored on wild pitches in the sixth inning.
Opposite Insognia, LaSalle’s James Rubino took the loss. Rubino allowed three earned runs and 10 hits in five innings.
For Niskayuna, catcher Matt Toy, shortstop Ben Funyak, Davison and Senecal each had multiple hits.
Niskayuna beat Shenendehowa 7-5 during the regular season. While the Plainsmen will play Thursday for their fourth championship in five years, the Silver Warriors are seeking their program’s first-ever sectional championship.
“It’s awesome,” Insognia said. “This could be our first-time ever, you know, and we’ve really been looking forward to this.”
“It’s been a goal of ours since Day 1,” Bianchi said.
SHENENDEHOWA 5, SARATOGA SPRINGS 3
Shenendehowa 110 020 1 — 5 13 0
Saratoga Springs 000 102 0 — 3 7 0
B. Spulnick, B. Disonell (6) and Douglas; Vavasour, Jones (3), Triola (5) and Herman.
NISKAYUNA 5, LA SALLE INSTITUTE 1
La Salle 001 000 0 — 1 1 3
Niskayuna 001 022 x — 5 12 1
Rubino, Crudo (6) and Hansen; Insognia and Toy.