Blue Devils Claim Class A Crown
As far as Rafael Smith was concerned his teammates were kind enough to give him a second chance; there was no way he was going to let them down. He was going to give his absolute best every second of every day.
On Saturday he did just that-and more.
Smith, a sophomore, scattered three hits over 5.1 scoreless innings of relief, picking up the win as Class A1 champion Kenmore West beat Class A2 champion Iroquois, 8-3, in the overall Class A title game that was played at Canisius College. The win earns the Blue Devils their first ever trip to Far West Regionals where they will play next Saturday at Dwyer Stadium in Batavia at 3pm.
“I really don’t think there is one pitcher out there that can shut us down,” Smith said. “Every game we’re gonna have a chance to win no matter what.” Smith also threw a complete game and drove in the winning run in the Blue Devils 4-3 win over Williamsville South in the Class A1 semifinals.
“Will South was an extremely hard game,” Smith said. “The fans were cheering. It was very loud. So I just told myself it’s just another game and I have to overcome adversity.”
But playing a pivotal role in sectional wins was likely the last thing on Smith’s mind a few weeks ago.
Though he was getting regular playing time Smith wasn’t completely happy with where he was playing. So he departed from the team. A few days later he went to coach John Haynes asking for a second chance.
Haynes was welcoming to Smith’s apology, but said ultimately him returning to the team was up to the boys. They overwhelming wanted Smith back.
“When he came back we had a vote as a team and we unanimously said we wanted him back,” captain Zach LaPlante said. “Because he was our brother throughout the whole season and he’s shown it now in the playoffs.”
Smith (six strikeouts) was beyond thankful that his brothers understood and gave him that second chance. “Im just happy that the team gave me a chance,” Smith said.
Against Iroquois, Smith came on in relief of starter Will Hudson when the Blue Devils were clinging to a 4-3 lead with two outs in the second. Smith enduced a ground out to the first batter he faced and was gold the rest of the way.
Growing as a player and a person Smith showed the mental toughness to work out of multiple jams without yielding a run.
Haynes said Smith earned the right to finish the game.
“Absolutely,” Haynes said. “He came in from left field, went in there and made a huge difference. He shut them down. He shut them right down….he was in a zone. I couldn’t wait for him to go out in the seventh inning to see how focused and in a zone he was.”
Kenmore West took a 2-0 lead during its first at-bat, but the Chiefs answered back with two hits of their own. Holding a 5-3 lead, West broke the game open when shortstop Jairo Santos’ bases clearing triple put the game out of reach.
Offensively, the top of the order came through again for the Blue Devils as Zach LaPlante walked twice and scored twice while Zac Boyes was 3 -for-4 and scored three times.
Iroquois starter Nick Bowen was strong especially in the third when he struck out the side looking.
Bowen was also involved in a key at-bat in the bottom of the second with two on. He drilled the ball to center appearing to plate both runners and tying the game at 4-4. However, a ground rule double was called so only one run was scored.