As Hornell celebrated the Section V title win, Pal-Mac ran around the bases, scored two runs, then celebrated next to Hornell (Hornell Sun file photo by Steve Harrison).
By JOHN ANDERSON
A video originally shot by Peish Sports of Hornell’s Section V championship loss to Pal-Mac made ESPN’s SportsCenter, has over six million views and has comments from major sports media outlets.
However back in Hornell, the coach who lost the game on one of the wildest endings you will ever see, is not going to protest, does not fault the umpires, and has spent his Sunday talking to his catcher and other players about life going forward. A passed ball when the kids thought the game was over, turned a 5-4 victory into a 6-5 loss as both teams celebrated thinking they won.
“I blame myself a little, maybe I could have gone out and argued it was a dead ball and kept the runner on third and said, ‘Hey it’s tied now, put the runner on third and make them beat us.’ But we can’t blame the umpires, everyone is running on the field and I’m not sure they knew how to handle it either,” Hornell coach Joe Flint told the Hornell Sun and Wellsville Sun. “I’m not sure what else happened because I haven’t watched the video. Maybe I should have called for a conference and protested. I blame myself on that piece of it, maybe I could have done a better job.”
Flint said he didn’t turn on the TV or computer today. Instead he’s been talking to the players individually.
To set the scene: Hornell, the No, 4 seed, who already won on TWO last-inning walk-offs to reach the title game, had a 5-1 lead on No. 2 Pal-Mac. The lead dwindled to 5-4 with two runners on and two outs in the seventh inning. Hornell star lefty pitcher Gates Miller was at the pitch limit, meaning this was his last batter no matter what. His strike three pitch appeared to be a curve in the dirt. The batter didn’t swing. The umpire signaled out. The catcher from Hornell picked the ball up. Even though there was a runner on first, with two outs the ball has to be secured. You have to catch it or tag the runner out. With less than two outs, it’s simply an out. Confusing? Yes. But that’s baseball.
The Hornell catcher, who was the reason the team won the semifinals and his bat helped them take the lead, looked back at the umpire, was unsure of the call, looked toward first and was sure the game was over, as he appeared to tag the batter before he ran to first. You could hear in the video someone yell out. As all players do on the last out, he put the ball in his back pocket and joined his team in a mob and dog pile on the pitcher’s mound.
The Pal-Mac batter, Brady Prebalick, did not think he was touched and the ump indicated the same (the Hornell catcher had his back to the ump when the safe call originated). Prebalick raced to first (he has to touch first or he is out and the runs would not count). Meanwhile, the runners on first and second, Brennan Pipitone and Will Caffyn, raced around the base, scoring the tying and winning run.
The next thing you know, two teams called the Red Raiders with identical uniforms, are celebrating within 15 feet of each other. While the coaches and umpires discussed the end at the plate, Palmyra-Macedon was awarded the victory. They are 20-2 and it’s their third straight title.
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“The kids have been talking about it. I’m giving them the best advice I can,” Flint said. “They are hanging in there … the catcher is certainly not doing that great. But there’s only so much you can do. People are going to say things, but time will heal it. This won’t go away, I told them 20 years from now it’s going to bother you, but the sun will come up tomorrow and other things in life will happen that are better. But we will remember it, we have to own it and always have each other’s back.”
Flint said there could have been a communication issue.
“The catcher made an attempt to tag. When he turned back, he missed the umpire’s hand motion and thought the game was over,” Flint said. “He got caught up in the emotions … I mean, they just won the Section V title!”
It was a wild season for Hornell. Weeks before the season, Jake Kenney, the coach, resigned as he took a new job (baseball is a small stipend, not a full-time job). Kenney was one of the best in the business, and his JV coach was Flint who took over the varsity.
While in his first year, Flint has coached 19u baseball with American Legion. And, he was even Kenney’s Little League coach. He was able to guide Hornell to an amazing season, finishing 14-6.
“We talked about those things, it’s even harder to take because we were the better team yesterday. I’m not saying we are better, but yesterday we were the better team. We hit the ball well, Yes we made errors and mental mistakes but we were still up 5-1,” Flint said.
Miller was pitching another gem for Hornell.
“Gates Miller is a bulldog. He’s not a strikeout pitcher,” Flint said. “He did everything he could. He was on his last batter, he was out of pitches after that batter.
“Look at what they went through, a new coach, weather so bad early in the season we couldn’t get on the field and then we have a resilient season,” Flint continued. “We beat Wellsville 1-0 and Logan Dunbar (Wellsville’s ace pitcher) had an excellent game and Gates matched him 0 for 0.”
But none of that was on TV today.
“I heard it was on ESPN, I decided not to turn on the TV or computer,” Flint said. “Eveyone was going to have their opinion. I hope they are not too hard on (the catcher). He’s a good kid.”
Also lost in the final play was a great game offensively by Hornell.
Will Argenteri had a RBI triple and Gennaro Picco (3-for-3) then drove him in for the lead.
The game would have been over with an easy Pal-Mac win had Hornell’s Jake Ponticello not had another huge offensive game. Ponticello, the star of the semi-final win in the bottom of the seventh, had a RBi double and was up again in the seventh.
“The third baseman was yelling ‘we should walk him’ and then Jacob ripped one down the third base line to give us a bigger lead,” Flint said. Miller scored and Davin Oyer had a RBI single and Charlie Oyer had a single.
“Last year I loved working with Jake Kenney, I was sad to see him go,” Flint said. “This is my first varsity job, but I’ve worked with kids at this level for 10 years.”
Flint’s stipend to coach ended yesterday. Today, he is doing his best coaching of the season.