BY BOB WEINER
For The Daily Gazette
TROY — Niskayuna’s confident effort started on the mound, but it continued with gloves and bats throughout its lineup during Saturday’s historic victory.
The second-seeded Silver Warriors won their first Section II Class AA baseball championship — and they did it against one of their fiercest rivals by blanking defending state champion Shenendehowa 4-0 at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
Junior lefty pitcher Alec Ritzenthaler went the distance, tossing a six-hit shutout and escaping numerous Plainsmen rallies, including a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning.
“It’s awesome. We made history today,” Ritzenthaler said. “Our team is going to be the first sectional champion in Niskayuna for as ever long as this high school is around.”
Ritzenthaler struck out two and walked three to lead the 18-4 Silver Warriors into regional competition next Saturday. Even though Shenendehowa seemed to have men on base in every inning, Ritzenthaler consistently got himself out of trouble.
“We played as a team, we played really well, and we beat Shen,” he said. “I expected to have a good game. When we got a couple of runs in the sixth inning, it brought up my confidence even more.
“I was locked in during the seventh inning. We were up four runs, and I just wanted to make my pitches. That third run was huge, because with the bigger lead, we could relax more.”
Niskayuna coach Chris Bianchi, who guided many of the same Silver Warrior players to numerous amateur baseball championships over the last few years, wasn’t surprised by his team’s all-around effort in one of the biggest games in program history.
“I’m so happy for our guys,” he said just before being soaked with water by his players. “We are so happy and so proud. This was a tremendous performance by Alec. He bent, but he didn’t break. He gave up a few hits, but no runs. He seemed to stay away from hard contact.”
Bianchi suspected eighth-seeded Shen (16-8) wouldn’t go down quietly: “We knew they were going to get some guys on base and bring the tying runs up to the plate, but we kept getting those clutch outs. In the seventh inning, Alec came over and said he wasn’t coming out. I told him no way was he was coming out. He was so pumped up.”
The coach admitted it was an even more special victory, considering the opponent.
“We beat a lot of good teams this year, but the fact they won the state championship and have been to the finals so many years was important to us,” he said. “It was stepping stone for us to beat them. We never had a doubt in our mind that we belonged here.”
Senior second baseman Angelo Spataro not only had three hits and two RBIs, but also made a key diving stab before throwing out Joe Novenche in the sixth inning.
“I wanted to win this game for our team and for all of those guys who played for us before today,” he said. “This win is for all the Niskayuna family and the guys who will be playing for us in the future. We were up for the moment, and we were really confident going in. We had our best pitcher in there. Plus, we’ve played in big games before for Coach Bianchi.”
Niskayuna scored twice in the third after loading the bases with a walk to Conor Graham, a single to right by Matt Toy and a walk to Chris Erickson, who replaced starting first baseman Tyler Senecal after Senecal was thrown out at home and ejected for failing to slide in the first inning.
Nick Insognia plated one run with a sacrifice fly to center, and Spataro drove in Toy with a single to left.
Niskayuna clinched the win with two more runs in the sixth on RBI singles by Ben Funyak and Spataro.
Devin Smith had two of Shenendehowa’s six hits.
“Our pitchers couldn’t hit the corners today, unfortunately, and that put us in some spots and gave them some good pitches to hit in critical situations,” Shen coach Greg Christodulu said. “We also left nine to 10 guys on base. We had our opportunities. We grinded out at-bats, but we didn’t get the big hits. If we had a big hit or two, we could have tightened up the game.
“But nobody expected us to be here. We went on a great run at mid-season, and we finally got some things together. Remember, we only had one guy back from last year. This is a whole new bunch of guys.”
And this is a whole new title for Niskayuna.
Shenendehowa 000 000 0 – 0 6 0
Niskayuna 002 002 x – 4 9 1
Roberts, Cady (5) and Douglas; Ritzenthaler and Toy.