BY JIM SCHILTZ
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The first thing John Furey did was talk up his sophomore pitcher, going on about the way Alec Ritzenthaler started so well in Niskayuna’s May 17 Section II Class AA first-round game against Saratoga Springs.
It was typical Furey.
“The best thing I’ve learned is it’s never about himself,” Mike Black, Furey’s 14-year varsity baseball assistant coach, said. “It’s always about the kids. That’s something rare and special that will be missed.”
Saratoga’s kids played better than the ones from Niskayuna, and forged a 5-0 victory at East Side Recreation field to keep their hopes of a repeat championship alive in the final game of Furey’s two-plus decade career.
“For me, I feel badly for them,” Furey said as he pointed toward his Silver Warriors as they packed up their bats and gloves. “I’ve had 21 years.”
Furey said he was hoping to go on one more deep playoff push like in 2014, when Niskayuna reached the semifinal round, but took solace in the fact that his young team with only four seniors had made it into the tournament once again as the No. 11 seed.
“Niskayuna baseball meant, to me, great kids,” he said, hesitating a bit before going on. “Lots of exciting times. Some tough times, too, but more ups than the downs. I think we missed the sectionals once in the last 10 years.”
Furey’s final edition closed out with an 8-12 record, leaving the veteran mentor with a 223-198 career mark.
“When I came in, we struggled for a few years, and then we went on a good run,” said Furey, whose teams made four sectional semifinal appearances since 2007. “It was the consistency of the kids coming through. The way they hustled all the time and lived up to the standards I set. We had a lot of guys step up. It was a commitment from our community and some great coaches. It was a combination of things.”
Furey taught youngsters more than pitching, hitting and defense.
“The whole focus was more than baseball,” Black said. “He wanted to build good character in youngsters so they would go on and serve the community beyond baseball.”
As far as the baseball part, you always knew what a Furey-led team was about.
“The community would be awfully proud of the baseball we played, more through the actions of the players,” Black said. “Our guys hustle and play hard, and they play play with sportsmanship.”
“I’d like to think we ran a class operation,” Furey said.
Furey will coach Niskayuna’s varsity football team one more season before stepping away from that post, too.
“It’s not about me,” he said shortly after Dan Coleman struck out the side to end the contest. “It’s about the kids who play the game.”
Saratoga’s kids continued their late-season surge behind Coleman, who blanked Niskayuna for the second time in nine days with a two-hit, 11-strikeout performance, and Jake Kerr, who had a double, a two-run single and scored two times from the No. 8 spot in the order.
“We had a little blunder in the beginning of the year,” Saratoga coach Andy Cuthbertson said. “We’re pitching well, hitting well and playing defense. Now’s the time to do it.”
Niskayuna had runners on the corners with one out in the first, and Liam Davison doubled with one down in the third, only to have Coleman escape both threats. Davison’s hit was the Silver Warriors’ last.
“Usually, you don’t want to have a pitcher face a team again so soon,” Cuthbertson said of Coleman’s one-hitter in an 8-0 win against Niskayuna toward the end of the regular season. “The fact that he shut them out, we liked our chances.”
Kerr doubled to start the Saratoga third, and after Ritzenthaler sandwiched strikeouts around an error, Brendan Coffee hit an RBI single. Kerr hit a two-run single in the fourth after the Blue Streaks loaded the bases on two infield hits and a walk, and Nick Kondo added a sacrifice fly.
Coffey walked in the fifth and scored on a wild pitch following Niskayuna’s second error.
Niskayuna 000 000 0 — 0 2 2
Saratoga Springs 001 310 x — 5 6 2
Ritzenthaler, Kerr (5) and Toy; Coleman and Coffey.