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By Lacey Gardner

See … you … Cater! Walk-off double in bottom of 7th lifts Genesee Valey/Belfast to sectional finals

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Win No. 802 for Dennie Miles not easy over the defending Section V champions; Daciw pitches lights-out to earn the victory in relief as comeback kids win 17th game on the season

Story and photos by CHRIS BROOKS, managing editor, wellsvillesports.com

BELFAST — Dennie Miles knows what it takes to win. No matter where he roams and no matter what color scheme he dons. After five seasons with both Avoca and Prattsburgh’s baseball programs that featured a pair of Section V championships, it was time for the legendary head coach to come back down to the Allegany County neighborhood.

His third stop across his illustrious and decorated journey landed him not too far from home — Genesee Valley/Belfast. What was around a two-hour round trip up north, was shaved off in favor of a 10 to 20 minute drive just outside town, depending on the night.

In his first full season with Genesee Valley/Belfast, his goal was to have his team experience a taste of some of that championship glory. A flavor like no other. The moment to get outside and onto the proving grounds had finally arrived, after months of hard work and dedication during the wintertime and leading into the spring. Now, the calendar has flipped to the end of May — the most wonderful time of the year.

After nearly 20 games on their regular season docket, Genesee Valley/Belfast entered Sectional play with a 15-4 record — tops in Class D, following an 8-11 finish a year ago. They were granted home field advantage all throughout the playoffs, leading up to that grand stage that sits at Maple City Park in Hornell, if they were to make it there.

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With all the bits and bobs to the playoff picture being permanently harnessed into place, there was some familiarity that came with it. Something that Miles had hoped wouldn’t happen, did happen. The stars from within Class D’s nebula were in quintessential alignment.

No. 1 Genesee Valley/Belfast and defending champion, No. 5 Avoca-Prattsburgh, Miles’ former team. One-on-one. With a trip to the Finals hanging in the balance.

Compelling.

On Wednesday, the Rich Sullivan Complex in Belfast saw spectators occupy the baselines on each side of the field to take in a high-wire spectacle for the books. Plenty of defense, plenty of timely hitting and yes, there were plenty of fireworks. What more could you want?

Well, how about one of the most thrilling finishes to a game you’ll see all year? That should suffice for this edge-of-your seat tale.

Down 4-2 and staring at the end of their season directly in the face, something had to give for the bracket’s top seed. Before the bottom of the seventh would commence, Miles rallied his troops in front of the Genesee Valley/Belfast dugout for one final discussion.

The message, simple but powerful: Don’t give up.

“They say the old axiom in baseball is that you have to get 21 outs,” said Miles. “You can’t stall, you can’t run out the clock, there’s no special plays. You just cannot give up, and sometimes that 21st out can be a difficult one to find, especially this late in the game. The game plan was to take pitches until we got a strike. We were down two, and we were more within reach. We just couldn’t give up.”

They didn’t. Instead, they doubled down on the comeback of the season.

Jamming the bases with just one out on the board, Genesee Valley/Belfast established some prime real estate to work with, putting Avoca-Prattsburgh right at the bitter edge. After revolving through the lineup back to the top, it set the stage for Matt Cater, who already hit a home run early on in the clash.

But his second and last hit? Even bigger than that.

Following a hit-by-pitch to reload the bases, the senior settled in and laid the lumber down on a blistering and catastrophic shot that sailed towards the best location possible in the outfield — the gap, finding it directly in left center before rolling straight towards the fence. Because of his weapons-grade swing, two mammoth runs came around and won the game for Genesee Valley/Belfast to cash in a marvelous rally from behind against Miles’ former team, clinching their spot in the Class D Finals this weekend with a 5-4 walk-off victory over the Titans.

“I was happy for him,” Miles said of Cater. “He didn’t do well on the mound for us today, but he never hung his head about it. He came back and put us on his back in the end. Chris Abbott was a bulldog out there for them, and he lost it. There was a hiccup and it ultimately cost him the game. He deserved a much better fate than that. We knew that Avoca-Prattsburgh was going to be good, regardless of record. You look at the teams they’ve played, they had probably the hardest schedule out of any D team in the tournament. Much harder than us, and they’re winners. In the Finals four years in a row, they won States in basketball two years straight. That’s what I hope this team can become.”

The Semifinal clash was bookended by the efforts of Cater to propel Genesee Valley/Belfast’s (17-4) offense, but it began with a stellar outing of pitching in the first that witnessed just under 10 pitches to work their way off the field rapidly. He then proceeded to further his own cause at the plate by seeing just one pitch presented to him by Devin Stamets, sending it straight into oblivion with absolutely no doubt to break the ice in a gigantic way to give them the early 1-0 lead.

But suddenly, the bats would freeze following Avoca-Prattsburgh’s response right after in the top of the second inning, when Colin Zurlick unloaded on a rocket that was launched to deep left field. After the Titans worked a walk to open the frame, that run ultimately found its way across the plate on the play to finish off the game-tying double.

After GV/Belfast was held still in the bottom portion with a 1-2-3 from the Titans defense, the No. 5 seeds went back to work again with two more runs in the third, both in timely fashion, with Macoy Putnam kicking off the festivities with a missile straight into right field that went straight to the fence to score the go-ahead run. Putnam came across soon after to branch the advantage out to a pair with a clutch put-out by Chris Abbott.

The top seeds kept on fighting their way back, as they received their one run lost to the Titans and turned it back into a one-run deficit with a big RBI put-out of their own, this by Evan Turybury, as he grounded it to the left side with a throw to first allowing the run from third to score. Later on, they placed the game-tying run aboard on base, but JJ Crowder continued his solid outing of relief with a big strikeout to Ty Hutchison to exit the jam.

Of the next three innings of play, five of those six halves saw zeroes occupy the scoreboard, with Avoca-Prattsburgh providing the only exception in the top of the sixth with a massive piece of insurance shelled out by Dan Stilson, who scored, after reaching base with a lead-off double, on Collin Hammond’s two-out single down the left field line.

To keep the momentum in their favor, the Titans looked to Chris Abbott in relief of Crowder to keep Genesee Valley/Belfast at bay, as he fired a 1-2-3 consisting of two strikeouts in-between a pop-fly to second base. Ryan Daciw came right back for the hosts and delivered a 1-2-3 of his own to keep Avoca-Prattsburgh frozen solid.

In the bottom of seventh, crunch time.

Something had to give for Genesee Valley/Belfast, who eliminated all the momentum the Titans built following a sixth inning filled with massive success, as they turned right around and ran the table with the bases loaded on two different occasions. With one out to work with, there was little room for error. Ian McKenzie provided the first RBI to pull the top seeds within one, taking a pitch for the team in the box to reload the bags again for Matt Cater to step in.

And in that moment in time, instant pandemonium, as Cater crushed his walk-off two-run double to send the Genesee Valley/Belfast side of the field into an absolute craze, finishing off a dynamic comeback for the ages to clinch their spot in the Class D Finals for the first time in their three-year history as a combined program.

“I told the kids, good defense, good pitching and timely hitting. Avoca-Prattsburgh was getting all of the timely hits and we weren’t. Another thing was, we weren’t testing their defense,” said Miles. “It seemed like anything we hit, it was in the air. I loved the way their coach (Gehrig Allen) coached, bringing in three different pitchers like that. It just took Matt in the end to nail it down. It was a difficult task to say the least, but I am so happy for the kids. This went a long way for this group, and they have never been in this position before in their careers. Now, they get this trip there.”

Genesee Valley/Belfast finished with their five runs stemming off just four hits, with Cater’s pair leading the way. Evan Turybury and Nolan Hunter each chipped in with a hit. On the mound, Daciw garnered the victory in relief behind four strikeouts.

Avoca-Prattsburgh was paced by a six-hit effort at the dish, with Dan Stilson and Colin Zurlick paving the way with two hits each. On the rubber, JJ Crowder struck out three and walked two in his outing of relief.

Next up on the docket for the top seeds, a trip to Maple City Park in Hornell to go for it all, as they prepare for a championship fight with the No. 2 Wolves of Arkport-Canaseraga on Saturday. The two teams will meet for the second time in just over a week, with the Wolves claiming the 6-4 edge on the road back on May 13.

First pitch for the title bout is slated for a 1 p.m. start.

Avoca-Prattsburgh 012 001 0 – 4 6 0

Genesee Valley/Belfast 101 000 3 – 5 4 0

A-P – Devin Stamets, JJ Crowder (1) (3K, 2BB), Chris Abbott (LP, 5) (2K, 2BB) and Blake McConnell.

GVB – Matt Cater (3K, 2BB), Ryan Daciw (WP, 3) (4K) and Evan Turybury.

See a photo gallery of photos from A-P and GV/B:

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