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Purple Eagles edge Spartans in thriller to earn berth in state playoffs

By Mike Wertman, Sports Writer Posted 4 June 2014 at 12:00 am

Photo by Cheryl Wertman – Albion senior captains Steven Stauss, John Warne and Connor Barleben hold the Section VI Class A championship plaque the Purple Eagles earned by defeating Starpoint 2-1 this afternoon at Lewiston-Porter to advance to the state playoffs.

The senior battery of pitcher Connor Barleben and catcher John Warne provided the power, both at the plate and on the mound, keying Albion to a narrow 2-1 victory over former long time Niagara-Orleans League foe Starpoint this afternoon at Lewiston-Porter to earn the overall Section VI Class A championship and a berth in the state playoffs.

Barleben and Warne both belted solo home runs to provide just enough offense for Albion.

“We didn’t hit the ball all that well but we got the big hits,” said Albion Coach Bruce Blanchard.

Barleben and the Purple Eagles defense did the rest as he limited Starpoint to just three hits over the seven innings and struck out eight.

“Connor’s been huge all year for us on the mound and he was just lights out,” said Blanchard whose Purple Eagles will now face Section V champion Pittsford Sutherland in the Far West Regional at 7 p.m. Saturday at Dietrick Park in Jamestown.

Albion jumped out to a lighting quick 1-0 lead as Warne belted a line drive home run over the left field fence with two out in the top of the first inning.

Photo by Cheryl Wertman – Albion’s John Warne gets congratulations from assistant Coach Brennan Meakin after hitting a first inning home run.

Photo by Cheryl Wertman – Albion second baseman Aaron Burnside makes a throw to first for an out.

“That was huge,” said Blanchard. “We had scored in the first inning of each of our sectional games and we talked about the importance of doing that before the game. That set the tone and gave Connor a little confidence.”

Starpoint did get a runner to third in the home half of the first after a lead off single but the Spartans could not capitalize as Albion center fielder Trey Hart hauled in a fly ball for the final out.

Barleben gave up a leadoff walk in the second but then retired the next three hitters on groundouts to JJ Downs at shortstop, Aaron Burnside at second and one back to the mound. He then retired the Spartans in order in the third as Dominic DiCureia made a nifty pickup at third base for the second out.

Starpoint finally pulled even in the fourth inning on a two out RBI single by by losing pitcher Mike Lane who also had a strong game on the mound giving up only three hits and striking out six.

The Spartans did get a runner aboard with one out in both the fifth and sixth innings, first on an error and then on a walk, but on both occasions Barleben bore down to quickly end each inning with a pair of clutch strikeouts.

Albion, whose only other hit since Warne’s homer, was a two out single by Burnside in the fifth frame, finally came up with with the game winning hit in dramatic fashion in the final frame.

Photo by Cheryl Wertman – Albion’s Connor Barleben gets congratulated by Coach Bruce Blanchard as he rounds third base on his game winning seven inning home run.

Barleben provided that clutch shot when he blasted a towering home run over the right field fence with one out in the top of the seventh.

“That was big. You just can’t ask for much more than that,” said Blanchard. “They had been pitching him away but then they came inside with a pitch and he jumped on it.”

Barleben and the Purple Eagles defense then quickly closed out the victory and a trip to the states by retiring Starpoint in order in the bottom of the seventh on a pop out to Warne, a groundout to Burnside and a strikeout.

“Every game in the sectionals we’ve had different guys step up so it’s been a real team effort,” said Blanchard.

Albion, which earned a spot in the state qualifier, by defeating Springville 8-3 for the Class A2 title last Saturday, brings a 17-2 record into the Far West Regional.

Ironically, Albion’s opponent the last time the Purple Eagles advanced to the regionals in 2010 also was Pittsford Sutherland, which earned a 6-2 victory at Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo.