At the end of April, the Niagara County Community College baseball team was hovering around .500 and outside the regional playoff picture.
Today, the Thunderwolves are regional champions, unbeaten in postseason play, and on their way to next week’s NJCAA D-III World Series in Tyler, Texas.
After winning seven of eight down the stretch to secure the final seed in the Region III playoffs, NCCC upset top-seeded and nationally-ranked Herkimer CC in a sub-regional doubleheader last week, then went back to Herkimer and swept through the regional championship playoffs, wrapping up the double-elimination tournament Sunday with a resounding 17-4 win over rival Erie CC.
“I’m very, very proud of these boys,” coach Matt Clingersmith said. “They are the gutsiest team I’ve ever had.
“We played the strongest schedule in region, maybe the state of New York. We played nine or 10 nationally-ranked teams. We overcame a lot of adversity and came together as a family at the right time.”
Dylan Baun was named tournament MVP, “pulling a Kirk Gibson,” in Clingersmith’s words, by racking up six hits, seven RBIs, two home runs, and seven runs scored in three games, all with a pulled hamstring.
Baun hit a solo home run in the first inning Sunday to give NCCC an early lead. He finished 3 for 3 with four RBIs and two homers.
Mike Ellwood hit a grand slam in the fourth that put the Thunderwolves up 5-1 and went yard again in the fifth, finishing with three hits and eight RBIs.
John Corbi (Starpoint) pitched seven strong innings, allowing three earned runs, and Jake Lysiak (Niagara Falls) pitched two shutout innings in relief, striking out former teammate Adam Grace with the bases lead to close the game.
Ernie Kirkwood and Brandon Bielecki joined Ellwood on the all-tournament team, while Calvin Subierski and Baun were named all-region for their season-long performance.
NCCC opened the tournament with a 10-9 win over Onondaga CC, and beat ECC 10-1 on Saturday.
The NJCAA Division III World Series begins May 19 in Tyler, Texas.