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Depew Baseball one win away from NYSPHSAA title

By Jerry Sullivan

BINGHAMTON — Depew High School’s Baseball team waited a long time to play a game in the NYSPHSAA championships. The Wildcats waited a lot longer than expected to actually win a game in the state tournament.

Depew took a 3-1 lead in the top of the fifth of Friday afternoon’s Class B semifinal against Plattsburgh at Union-Endicott. But a sudden, slanting rain inundated the dirt infield, forcing officials to suspend the game and move the finish to Mirabito Stadium, home of the Mets’ Double-A affiliate, that evening.

Nearly five hours later, the game resumed in downtown Binghamton. Depew took care of business as senior Josh Toolen overcame a shaky start and pitched no-hit baseball over the final three innings to finish a 5-1 win under the lights.

The Wildcats (25-2) will meet Lansing of Section 4 in the state ‘B’ championship game at 4 p.m. at Binghamton University on Saturday, assuming weather doesn’t complicate matters as it did on Friday. Lansing nipped Albertus-Magnus (Section I) 3-2, in the other night semi at Binghamton U.

One more win would culminate a dream season for Depew, which won its first Section VI title in half a century, then captured the Far West Regional for the first time in school history a week ago.

It would be an emotional triumph for the Wildcats and their head coach, Dennis Crawley, who was diagnosed with ALS — known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the late Yankees great — in the summer of 2021. Crawley is on an experimental drug and gets around on crutches, but continues to coach and motivate his team.

Crawley wasn’t certain he would even be here when he got the diagnosis of ALS, which has killed 26 members of his family. It’s a neurodegenerative disease with no cure that generally results in death two to five years after the onset of symptoms. It claimed Gehrig late in his Hall of Fame career at 38.

Soon after his diagnosis, Crawley said he wouldn’t be able to do many of the customary coaching duties, like hitting fungos or pitching batting practice. But he’s a coach at heart, and he said he would coach as long as he could. He sat at the corner of the bench during warmups and hobbled out on crutches to meet the umpires for the pre-game review of ground rules Friday afternoon.

Eight hours later, now just one game away from a magical state title, Crawley stood on crutches along the third-base line while his players celebrated, typically downplaying his own role in Depew’s inspiring season.

“It’s all about the kids,” Crawley said. “They’ve bought in from the beginning of the year to everything we’ve taught them. They just playing for each other, that’s the best part about it. I’ve always coached just for the kids. Watching them play, watching them play for each other, it’s really cool.”

Watching their fidgety, fretful, five-hour wait to get back on the field after the rain delay wasn’t so rewarding. “It sucked!” Crawley said. “It was terrible. It was awful. But what are you going to do? You play with the cards they deal you. It is what it is.”

He might have been talking about his own physical misfortune. The Depew players were running around like kids during the rain delay, cavorting with the opposing players. But they’re teenagers. They wanted to play ball. 

“We kind of had the momentum going when the rain started,” said senior catcher Tyler Karnyski. “I kind of got nervous back at the hotel. But we came back as a team and won.”

They had a lead because of Karnyski, the No. 9 hitter, who slammed a two-run double off the left-field fence to make it 2-0 in the second. The rally started innocently enough with two outs when Daniel Reese reached on catcher’s interference. After Reese stole second, Jacob Scibetta worked a bases-loaded walk, setting the stage for Karnyski’s big hit off Plattsburgh lefty Warren Miller.

Plattsburgh got one back in the third when Braeden Calkins’s pop fly fell in back of shortstop and Jake Lacey’s sharp hit to center bounded away from Depew center fielder Dom DeAngelo with one out for an RBI triple.

Senior hurler Eric Woodley worked out of further damage in the third and breezed through the fourth. In the top of the fifth, Depew added a third run when Warren Miller walked Christopher Kanick with the bases loaded, moments after a hard rain arrived and the umpires stopped the game.

More than five hours later, Depew returned, this time at Mirabito Stadium, the bases still jammed. Reese walked on four pitches to make it 4-1. They made it 5-1 on an error in the sixth.

Toolen, who struck out Jake Calkins with the bases loaded in the fifth, breezed from there, setting down the last six men in order and striking out four. He dropped a curveball over for a called third strike to end it, and the celebration ensued behind second base. Crawley and Depew are one win away from the first state title by a Section VI Baseball team since Fredonia won Class B in 2013.

“It’s an honor playing for him,” Karnyski said. “He’s a great coach. He knows the game of baseball really well. He’s strict, but he knows the game. We can’t win without him — without out coaches, our players, out hitting, our pitching, everything.”

Karnyski was asked if he’d ever had a bigger hit than his two-run shot off the wall in the second inning.  “Well, we started off the season in Florida,” he said. “Actually, we had bases loaded and they put in a new pitcher and I hit a grand slam over the fence.” That wasn’t the state semifinals, he was told. Karnyski laughed. “This is better,” he said. 

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