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BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — Arlington had heard all about Mark Armstrong the pitcher. The Admirals got a lesson on Saturday about Mark Armstrong the hitter, too.
Less than 24 hours after being drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the third round, the Clarence (Buffalo) star ended Arlington’s quest for a state championship. Armstrong struck out nine in seven innings pitched and crushed a go-ahead two-run homer in the fifth as Arlington lost 5-2 in the Class AA semifinals at SUNY Binghamton.
“I was surprised,” Admirals catcher Drew Lugbauer said of Armstrong as a hitter. “I knew coming in he would be the stud of the team. But I didn’t think he’d be as good of a hitter, too.”
Armstrong carried Clarence into the state title game, allowing six hits and walking four on 125 pitches. Clarence faced Baldwinsville of Section 3 in the title game at 4 p.m.
“It’s hard walking off,” junior center fielder Danny Lowndes said. “We have nothing to hang our heads about. It was a great accomplishment to get here for our team and for our program.”
Arlington got ahead early as Armstrong labored. The 6-foot-3 right-hander, who came into the game 11-0 with a 0.49 ERA, got hit hard in the third inning. Lugbauer, a junior catcher, smacked a liner up the middle for a two-out RBI. Kyle Dinges followed with another liner to center, putting the Admirals up 2-0.
“We felt very confident,” Lugbauer said. “We felt confident all the way to the last inning.”
Arlington managed only four baserunners over the final four innings. Clarence took advantage of its opportunities as Ryan Jelonek hit a two-out RBI single in the third and Chris Ossa tied it with a sacrifice-fly in the fourth.
In the fifth, Bryan Jost led off for Clarence with a walk, bringing Armstrong to the plate. Although drafted as a pitcher, Armstrong showed a power swing in the first inning with a drive to the warning drive for a double.
Armstrong’s drive in the fifth proved far most costly.
“As soon as he hit it I knew it was gone,” Lugbauer said.
Armstrong’s two-run homer in the fifth gave Clarence a 4-2 lead and all the confidence and run support their all-American pitcher would need. He had his only 1-2-3 inning in the sixth before getting Lowndes to fly out on an 11-pitch at-bat to end the game.
“We had our chance to win the ballgame,” Arlington coach Al Hammel said. “We had our spots, they had their spots. They had the one big hit, the two-run homer. But we have to move forward as a program.”
Arlington, the two-time Section 1 Class AA champs, last won a state championship in 1987. With a young core of starters returning, led by Michigan-bound Lugbauer and Lowndes and pitcher Joe DeRosa, the Admirals feel 2014 is their best shot.
“We are going to have a fire in our belly,” Lugbauer said. “We are coming back ready.”
Email Kevin Devaney Jr. at email@example.com