By ADAM SHINDER
LITTLE FALLS – After a drama-filled first act to the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League East Division Finals Friday night, Connor Johnstone and the Amsterdam Mohawks avoided any anxiety in finishing off a sweep of the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs.
Making likely his final start of the summer, Johnstone was brilliant over seven innings, limiting the DiamondDawgs to a run on four hits, while the Amsterdam offense scratched together plenty of timely hits to pick up a 7-1 win at Veteran's Memorial Park and sweep the best-of-three series to advance to a fourth consecutive PGCBL Championship Series.
“It felt good,” Johnstone said. “We had really good defense tonight, I only needed a couple strikeouts.”
Primarily mixing between his fastball and changeup, as he has through most of the latter half of the season, Johnstone struck out four, walked one batter and hit another. He allowed a one-out double to Colin Hawk in the bottom of the first inning, but Hawk was erased trying to steal third to end the inning and Johnstone retired the next 12 batters he faced before Jayson Sullivan's two-out single in the fifth.
Mohawk Valley put its lone run on the board when Hawk singled home Eric Strano in the sixth to pull within 4-1, but Johnstone escaped that inning by retiring Gus Craig and Zach Collettt, each of whom represented the potential tying run.
“Connor was excellent,” Mohawks coach Keith Griffin said. “He threw so well, mixed his pitches so well, his velocity was good enough that if they tried to sit on his off-speed pitches, he just threw it right by them. I thought Connor was tremendous.”
Meanwhile, the Mohawks pounded out 12 hits against four 'Dawgs pitchers, scoring all seven of their runs against starter Evan Kissinger. An RBI double by Marcus Carson and an RBI single from Josh Gardiner got the Mohawks on the board in the second inning, then Jonathan Pryor added a two-run single in the fourth.
In the seventh, after Mohawk Valley got on the board, the Mohawks loaded the bases with nobody out, ending Kissinger's night in favor of Bryan Greig. Greig retired John Razzino, but Tommy Kain's RBI single and Alex DeBellis' two-run double all but cemented the sweep, with Kevin Guthrie finishing off the win with two scoreless innings in relief of Johnstone.
“I thought we hit the ball really hard all night long,” Griffin said. “We had some guys step up and swing the bat really well for us.”
The Mohawks, two-time defending PGCBL champions, will play the winner of the West Division Finals between the Elmira Pioneers and Newark Pilots in a best-of-three series starting Tuesday at Shuttleworth Park. Counting the club's New York Collegiate Baseball League titles in 2009 and 2010, the Mohawks have reached a league championship series in each of Griffin's six seasons at the helm.
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