By Owen O'Brien
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — It had been a disappointing Thursday afternoon for Kenmore West first baseman Ryan Hussar.
After three plate appearances, he was hitless. Three at-bats, three strike outs.
So when he came up to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning, with his Blue Devils one run away from knocking off rival Kenmore East in early-season Niagara Frontier League action, the junior was looking for some redemption.
“I just went up to the plate thinking to myself ‘I am going to get a hit because of how bad I did the previous three at-bats,” Hussar said. “I just wanted to come through for the team. I believe there was (extra motivation) because I was hanging my head earlier in the game and I just wanted to come through.”
That's exactly what he did, blasting a single on the first pitch he saw to lift his Blue Devils to a 3-2 walk off win over Kenmore East (0-3 NFL).
“I like jumping on the first pitch because it’s usually a fast ball right down the pipe,” Hussar said. “A lot of people like taking the first pitch for a strike, but I don’t enjoy that very much because then I (may not) see another great fastball to hit.”
Kenmore West coach John Haynes said this is a situation the team replicates all the time at practice.
“We practice that upstairs in the cage — we will tell them it’s an 0-2 count and stuff like that or call out bases loaded two outs, like ‘here it is, game on the line, bottom of the seventh, what are you going to do?’” Haynes said.
Hussar’s heroics wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the pitching performance of Jimmy Faso. He threw all seven innings, striking out six hitters while allowing only two runs, keeping the Blue Devils in a position to win the game with one swing.
Faso pitched in and out of trouble throughout the game, surrendering 11 hits and walking three batters. The Bulldogs had at least one runner in scoring position with less than two outs in six of the seven innings, but never scored after the first inning.
“(Faso's) a tough kid out there,” Haynes said. “He’s like 5 feet 6 inches tall and a battler. He loves the game of baseball, works very hard at what he does. He’s a big competitor, a great kid to have on the team and he’s a leader as one of the captains.”
Despite the loss, Kenmore East assistant coach Jeff Orlowski was happy with his team’s play. With coach Les Simon attending to the passing of his mother-in-law, the team came out looking to win for its coach.
Bulldogs right fielder John Mirabella went 3 for 3 with a double and Preston Smith went 2 for 4 with a triple and a single to start the seventh inning. Seven of the nine starting Bulldogs recorded a hit in the game.
Starting pitcher Jeff White did all he could to keep Kenmore East in the game, going 6 1/3 innings, allowing only two hits while striking out nine. But ultimately errors in the field and six walks gave Kenmore West its opportunities to score and win the game.
“I don’t think he gave up an earned run all day,” Orlowski said. “We went out to the mound after he walked the first guy (in the seventh) and said it’s your game to lose. You pitched too well to get to this point. He was striking guys out, he struggled at times but made some big pitches and was getting us out of innings. He’s our No. 1 for a reason and we are going to keep riding him and hopefully he will carry us the rest of this year.”
Whenever Kenmore East and West meet, the games have a different feel. They have one annual under the lights, but even when it’s on a Thursday afternoon there is a different atmosphere – which was evident by the large crowd in attendance.
“East-West is a rivalry,” Orlowski said. “Everybody says it, the kids come out and they are ready and hyped and pumped all day in school. You can see on the bench, they were all into the game right until the end. Johnny Haynes does an excellent job with West. These are two good ball clubs, nobody deserved to lose today.”
For the Blue Devils, this performance shows the strides the program has made over the past seasons and their hard work is beginning to show off in the win column.
“They played as a team and they are growing,” Haynes said. “One of the biggest things is the kids are starting to learn how to win ball games. It’s just a nice win. It was a great overall win for Kenmore West.”
Next up for West is Niagara-Wheatfield on Monday at 4:45 p.m, while East will square off against Hutch Tech at Coco-Cola Field on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. The two will meet again May 10 under the lights at Sheridan Park. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m.Contact Tonawanda News sports at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find its on Twitter @tonanewssports.