Niagara University commit homers and pitches a complete game for Niagara Falls
By David Yarger
Niagara Falls coach Rob Augustino called senior Matt Grace "an example kid," due to his hard work and ability.
Grace proved to be exactly that in Tuesday's opening day game vs. North Tonawanda.
The Wolverines defeated the Lumberjacks, 11-0, on the turf behind Niagara Falls High School. It was Augustino's first win as a full-time varsity coach.
"It feels good," Augustino said. "It feels good for the boys and for the program. When you have your very first game on varsity, you get that first game out of the way, it's a victory and you can kind of breath that sigh of relief without the stress going into that second game. I really feel blessed."
On a relatively chilly evening, the Falls' bats were far from frozen. The team amassed 10 hits, with the top three in the lineup (Dustin Newman, Grace and Ross Pochatko) going a combined 6-9 with 4 RBIs and 7 runs scored.
Grace was the center of attention, making life difficult for the Lumberjack offense and pitching staff.
The Wolverines played as the visiting team at their home field, due to field conditions in N-T. They took advantage of batting first.
In the first inning, Newman and Grace led off with singles. With one out, first basemen Michael Laurrie hit a ground ball to shortstop that was thrown away. Newman came home from second to score and, due to an errant throw to the catcher, Grace also came around to score.
Next batter, Anthony Coty drilled a line drive in the left-centerfield gap to score Laurrie from second. After half an inning, NF had a 3-0 lead.
Grace struck out the side in his first inning on the mound, on his way to a 15-strikeout, two-hit shutout.
In the second, AJ Kinney walked and stole second base. Following another Newman single, Grace came up with one out and guys on first and third base. After hitting a deep foul ball, he drilled a three-run homerun over the left-centerfield wall on the next pitch. This put the Wolverines up 6-0.
Christopher Pauline got the Jacks first hit in the second inning. Grace followed that by striking out the next two batters. Pauline finished 1-3 on the day.
The Wolverines added another run in the third, as Pochatko's infield single scored Kinney, making it 7-0. Kinney finished the game with 3 walks and 3 runs scored.
Collin Hebeler and Jacob Warriner came in for the Jacks and threw three shutout innings to minimize the Wolverines offense.
Coach Neil Turvey noted Warriner's performance as a positive from the game.
"We had of juniors that got in," Turvey said. "A guy like Jake Warriner, to see him in a game against varsity competition - find out that he can be effective for us the way that we need him to."
The Wolverines added 4 runs in the top of the seventh, two coming off the bat of Laurrie, who hit a single that scored Kinney and Newman. The hit made it 11-0.
Grace came back out to finish the game, and struck out the final two batters to end it.
Augustino said Grace's outing made life easier for the Wolverines.
"Him throwing the way he did made everything so much easier," he said. "It took the stress off everyone. Defensively, we have new parts out there. New left fielder, center fielder, the right fielder didn't play there last year, new shortstop, second basemen and catcher. That's a lot of moving parts, and he took all the stress off them and it was great."
For the Jacks, it was the team's first opportunity to do any baseball activities outdoors due to the weather. Turvey noted certain things that needed to be fixed for the next game.
"There's pieces that we can control, that we didn't handle very well," he said. "Our effort when we walk off the bus, the energy that you bring to a game we were lacking sorely today. That's something we make sure we address and bring differently for Friday.
The Jacks next game is at 4:30 p.m. Friday vs. Niagara-Wheatfield.
For the Wolverines, their next game will be at 4:45 p.m. on Friday on the turf vs. Kenmore West.