WATERTOWN — The Watertown Rapids entered Tuesday night needing a win and a lot of help to remain in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League playoff race.
Neither happened as the Rapids jumped out to an early three-run lead, but couldn’t hold the advantage for long in a 9-6 setback to the Utica Blue Sox before a crowd of 401 in their home finale of the season at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
Watertown’s playoff fortunes were dashed even before the loss when fourth-place Elmira defeated Oneonta in the first game of a doubleheader to clinch the final postseason berth in the league.
“From the other day, we were trying to put together maybe a late run, maybe make a little run into the playoffs, but this was definitely a rough one,” Rapids right fielder Jonathan Catapano said.
“We found out we were eliminated tonight,” Watertown coach Mike Wood said. “It hurts, the guys were trying to win, trying to keep our playoff hopes alive.”
After seizing the early lead against West Division winner Utica (29-16), the Blue Sox bounced back by scoring seven runs over the next three innings and wouldn’t trail again.
“We did put up a bunch of runs, but unfortunately they put up a little more than us,” Catapano said. “We were hoping to get a good win at home in front of a good crowd, but it’s definitely a tough loss.”
The loss was the fourth straight and the seventh in the past eight games for Watertown (16-28).
“Absolutely it’s disappointing,” Wood said. “We want to make the playoffs and we wanted to make a deep run in the playoffs, and I thought we had the team. We lost a few guys along the way, with innings caps and stuff like that, family issues, injuries, so that’s going hurt. And when that happens, you have to suck it up and keep fighting, and we did.”
The Rapids won at Elmira in a 9-1 decision on Friday to pull within one-half game of the Pioneers for the final playoff spot.
But the Rapids returned home and were beaten by third-place Adirondack, 10-8, on Saturday, and then lost a doubleheader at Mohawk Valley on Sunday to put their proverbial backs against the wall.
“The Newark loss (on Thursday) kind of took the morale out of us and made it tough to bounce back,” Wood said. “And the Adirondack loss as well, it hurts.”
In their up-and-down season, the Rapids got out to a 7-3 start and stood in first place in the East Division on June 14.
“To be honest, I think we didn’t have very timely hitting, not a lot of great hitting with runners in scoring position,” said Catapano, a Rochester native who attends Grand Valley State. “There would be innings here and there where we would up runs, but I think we were inconsistent at the plate when it counted.”
“I think so, we played some good baseball at times, but we were up and down all year,” Wood said.
Watertown managed to win only nine games the rest of the way to miss out on the postseason.
“To be in fifth place is definitely disappointing, because we were so close to making the playoffs,” Rapids second baseman Derek Kasperzyk (Quinnipiac) said. “The last few games, we’ve had a short roster, but the guys have been working hard and still giving it their all. We’ve given as much fight as we could.”
“It was a fun summer, a productive summer for just about every guy,” said Wood, also an assistant coach at St. Lawrence University who is in his first season as a summer collegiate coach. “They got their playing time, they got their at bats, their innings pitched, they worked hard, they had fun — those are my principles and my goals for the end of the year.”
Against Utica, the first three Rapids reached base in the first inning as Kasperzyk singled, Catapano doubled and Tony Socci followed with an RBI double to the left field wall. Two outs later, catcher George Rosales stroked a two-run single to center field for the 3-0 advantage.
After the Blue Sox scored a single run in the second inning, they grabbed the lead for good in the third by scoring five runs on seven hits off Rapids starter Marc Maestri, as their first six batters each reached on a hit, which was capped by an RBI double by Zach Heming with two outs for a 6-3 lead.
Utica led 7-3 on an RBI groundout by Young in the fourth, Watertown struck for three runs in the fifth to pull within 7-6. Kasperzyk reached on an error and Catapano followed with his two-run home run, which carried over the left-field wall. Then with two outs, Vinny DeRubeis reached on an infield single and scored on Rosales’ single to center.
Utica tacked on two runs in the eighth on Young’s run-scoring double and an RBI triple from Luis DeLeon.
Will Magovney relieved Maestri in the fifth inning in making his collegiate league debut and pitched well to keep Watertown in the game.
Magovney, who grew up in Watertown and is an Immaculate Heart Central graduate, pitched four innings in his first appearance of the summer, allowing two runs on six hits, while striking out four and walking only one.
Magovney, who last pitched in May for Jefferson Community College, and has worked with the Rapids all summer as their public address announcer at the Fairgrounds, was called upon by Wood on Tuesday morning.
“It was fun to get out there and play a little baseball,” said Magovney, who is hoping to transfer to SUNY Fredonia for the upcoming school year. “They asked me (Tuesday) morning, I got a text from (Watertown Rapids general manager Brandon) Noble asking if I could help out because we’re low on arms. I felt pretty good, the guys played really well, they played a lot of good defense behind me.”
Another local native, Lowville’s Kalani Zehr, pitched a scoreless ninth inning for Watertown, sending Utica down in order.
Elmira, which is now tied for third place with Adirondack in the division, leads fifth-place Watertown by three games in the West Division with one day left in the regular season.
The Rapids, who are 10-13 in road games, finish at 6-15 at home this season.
“We were right there for most of the season,” Watertown left fielder Vinny DeRubeis (University of Bridgeport) said. “We got off to the hot start, and we lost two or three arms like right in the middle of the season and that was something that we struggled with a little bit with the pitching.”
Last year, Watertown made the playoffs and won at Mohawk Valley, 3-2, in a one-game playoff before losing to Amsterdam, 2-0, in a semifinal series.
The Rapids will wrap up their regular season with a doubleheader at Geneva at 5 p.m. today.