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BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. – Briarcliff’s first two playoff games were pretty uncharacteristic for a team with a powerful lineup that usually puts up runs in bunches. The Bears had to grind out close wins against Croton-Harmon and Putnam Valley, averaging just four runs per contest.
The bats came to life on Tuesday.
Top-seeded Briarcliff scored 11 runs in the first three innings and received a stellar pitching performance from junior Spencer Kulman to defeat No. 5 Dobbs Ferry, 12-1, in a Section 1 Class B semifinal at Briarcliff High.
“We ran into some junk ball pitchers and struggled a little bit with off speed (in the first two rounds),” senior first baseman Paul Henshaw said. “Today we were able to jump on the fastball. We were getting runners in scoring position, but we just weren’t coming through with hits the first couple of games. But we came through today.”
“The deeper you get into (sectionals) I think the more we realize that we haven’t been doing a good enough job offensively,” Briarcliff coach John Consorti said. “We’ve been relying heavily on our pitching and defense. We have some good hitters who haven’t been hitting well and today they kind of broke out a little bit.”
The defending champion Bears (19-4) jumped on Dobbs Ferry’s Danny Crowe in the second inning, erupting for seven runs and batting around the order. John Fussell singled, advanced to third on an error and scored on a groundout by Henshaw. Joe Karlik and Jackson Plimpton each had an RBI single to make it 3-0. Colin Orr was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and then Fussell walked. Henshaw then laced a two-run double to make it 7-0.
“I was staying short today, that’s been my problem of late,” said Henshaw, who had two hits and five RBI. “My swings been getting too long and I was just focusing on getting the barrel on the ball. Especially with the velocity their pitcher was throwing at.”
Kulman struck out six, allowed just three hits and walked two over six innings to earn the victory.
“I was a little high with the first couple batters, but I was able to settle down and my arm felt good,” said Kulman, who was on just three days’ rest after beating Croton in the opening round. “I came into the game thinking I was going to have to mix it up a little bit. I knew they had a good top half of the lineup. They seemed a little late on my fastball and I stuck with that most of the game and I mixed the curveball a little bit.”
“Nothing he does surprises me,” Consorti said. “He really did a great job and kind of set the tone today. He threw a lot of fastballs and seemed to have a little extra jump on it. [Dobbs Ferry] was a very aggressive hitting team and chased a couple close to the zone.”
The Bears added four more runs in the third inning. Karlik drove in Louis Carrafiello with an RBI double. Orr doubled and then Henshaw came through again with a two-run single to make it 11-0.
“I was a little nervous coming in because our bats weren’t where they usually are,” Kulman said. “But as soon as we got that lead it was smooth sailing from there.”
Briarcliff will take on No. 2 Keio in the Section 1 Class B final tomorrow at Dutchess Stadium.
“It’s going to take a lot of focus,” Henshaw said. “They’re a very good small ball team. They’ll catch you sleeping. They do a lot of delayed steals, bunts and stuff like that.”
The Unicorns bested the Bears 8-1 back on May 11.
“We didn’t play our best ball against them last time,” Kulman said. “We just have to put a whole seven innings together like we did today and I think we’ll be fine.”
“You have to be sound fundamentally like they are,” Consorti said. “You can’t give them opportunities. We’re going to have to score some runs. They’re tough and they play the game the right way.”