It likely will be a battle of the Bens tonight.
Oneonta High senior Ben Moxley (6-0) and Westhill junior Ben Walsh (5-1) will try to pitch their teams to victory at 7:00 tonight in a Class B state baseball quarterfinal at DeLutis Field in Rome.
"Ben's been solid all year long," OHS coach Joe Hughes said of Moxley, a hard-throwing right-hander who started the Yellowjackets' opener this season _ a 17-1 win over Chenango Forks _ and earned the victory in OHS' 6-1 win over Waverly last Tuesday in a Section Four Class B semifinal. "Ben is a fierce competitor. He'll go out and battle. He's certainly proved his competitive spirit this season. I look forward to him pitching a good game."
Walsh, a right-hander, is Westhill's No. 2 pitcher. The Warriors' top pitcher, Division I Canisius-bound left-hander Adam Godzak, threw a one-hitter with 13 strikeouts in his team's 8-1 Section Three Class B title-game win over Cazenovia on Saturday.
Though Warriors coach Bob Weismore initially said Walsh would pitch tonight, he didn't rule out that Godzak would get the start, despite having two days' rest.
"It's a great possibility," Weismore said of starting Godzak, who is 10-1 with an ERA around 0.50. "He says he wants to. He's always throwing and he's an old-school player. He said, 'Just give me the ball.' I haven't ruled him out."
Oneonta (21-2), which extended its winning streak to 13 games with a dramatic, 11-10 victory over 2011 Class B state champion Chenango Valley in the Section Four final Thursday, is looking to advance to the state semifinals for the first time since it beat Section One's Lakeland, 5-4, in a 2002 state quarterfinal. That season, the Yellowjackets fell, 10-3, to W.T. Clarke in the state final and haven't played in a state playoff game since.
For Westhill (20-5), reaching the state playoffs is commonplace. In his 12 seasons as coach, Weismore's teams have won eight Section Three titles, two of which led to state championships in 2009 and 2010.
As a freshman, Walsh split time at shortstop and third base when the Warriors won the state title in 2010.
"He throws the ball well," Weismore said of Walsh. "He throws hard. He's a hockey player, and they're tough and competitive."
Westhill had to replace seven starters off last season's team, but Weismore said pitching has carried his team. The Warriors have scored three runs or fewer eight times this season and they're 7-1 in those games _ the lone loss coming by a 1-0 count to Homer.
"Mostly pitching," Weismore said of his squad's success. "Our offense, thank God, as soon as sectionals started we started hitting the ball. We've been executing things such as hit-and-runs, which is key. As soon as we started executing, we started scoring. We gained some confidence and confidence is everything in baseball."
Hughes scouted Westhill's victory over Cazenovia.
"They're a solid team," said Hughes, attempting to guide the Yellowjackets to their first state championship in baseball. "They have good pitching. They're disciplined at the plate. They bunt and execute well. They try to put pressure on you. It'll be a challenge for us."
Perhaps Westhill's top position player is junior J.C. Pena, a Dominican-born shortstop who Weismore said can throw 90 mph.
He had two hits against Cazenovia, as did second baseman and clean-up hitter Tyler Thomas.
Catcher Jacob Nigolian hit a triple in the sectional final. The first baseman is Joe Meluni, the school's valedictorian, who Weismore described as a clutch hitter.
The Warriors likely will be without center fielder David Graf, who suffered a hamstring injury six or seven games ago.
"That's huge," Weismore said of not having Graf. "He's probably the fastest guy in the league and a tremendous outfielder."
Weismore added that if Graf does play, it probably will be as a designated hitter.
The Yellowjackets, who returned all but one starter from last season's 20-2 squad, have outscored their opposition, 204-50, this season en route to winning a second straight Southern Tier Athletic Conference championship. They've thrown two no-hitters this season _ one by Moxley and one by senior left-hander Mike Calkins, who hit a tying three-run homer to right in the seventh inning of the win over CV on Thursday.
"Playing in the STAC league is good baseball," said Hughes, whose team's two losses have come against Class AA schools Union-Endicott (2-1) and Niskayuna (4-1). "It's not easy competition. There are Class AA and A schools and solid B schools. But with this special group, we wanted to expand and play some AAs _ Union-Endicott, Vestal, Binghamton _ and expose our team to challenge after challenge. They were designed to make us better. We've had three days of good practice and we're ready to play."
In the win over CV at Conlon Field in Binghamton, Oneonta finished with 13 hits, including three by leadoff man David Wright, who reached base all five times.
The winner will play Section Six's Fredonia (19-5) or Section Five's Wayland Cohocton (17-5) at 1 p.m. Saturday in a state semifinal at Conlon Field. The state final is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday at Conlon.
Hughes said if tonight's game is postponed by rain, the game will be played Wednesday. If that happens, Hughes said the Varsity 'O' Athletic Awards evening scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday will be moved to Monday.
Rob Centorani can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.
It likely will be a battle of the Bens tonight.
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