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ORANGEBURG, N.Y. — The natural assumption is that Tappan Zee’s run to a Section 1 baseball championship as a 11 seed last season was a postseason aberration. The Dutchmen weren’t the best team, just one that peaked at the right time.
But if you actually watched Tappan Zee in the playoffs last year, or through the first seven games this season, you’d realize this isn’t the most talented team — just the grittiest one.
“I think the guys that are back from last year got a taste of it and they liked it,” Dutchmen coach Mark Stanford said. “They understand that, whether you fall behind, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. So they play with that kind of confidence.”
Tappan Zee showcased that again on Friday. The reigning Class A champs squandered a three-run lead but rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth beat visiting Clarkstown South 5-4, handing the Vikings their first loss of the season.
Mike Woulfe picked up the victory with 2 1/3 shutout innings of relief, and Brendan Kraemer had two hits and two RBI, including the go-ahead sacrifice-fly in the sixth.
It was yet another comeback victory over a Class AA school for Tappan Zee. Last Saturday, the Dutchmen trailed a highly-touted Suffern team on the road with Mounties ace Dominick Kulbaba on the mound. Tappan Zee rallied from three runs down to force extra innings before winning it in the eighth.
“We did this a little bit on our trip to Florida too, so I hope the kids are beginning to catch that idea and play that kind of ball,” Stanford said. “It’s important to not feel scared when you’re down and I don’t think that they do.”
Tappan Zee could have been rattled in the fifth. Leading 3-1, South’s Anthony Morris plated a run on an error. With two outs, Louis Noia slammed a two-run homer over the fence it left to put the Vikings ahead.
“We knew it was only one run. It was nothing,” Kraemer said. “To be honest, we knew we had three innings to get a few hits and come back. It was nothing for us.”
The Dutchmen stranded two in the fifth against South starter Eric Cayne before they loaded the bases with nobody out in the sixth. The tying run scored when Chris Monaco hit a slow grounder that South mishandled. Following a force out at the plate, Kraemer came up with the bases loaded and one out.
Kraemer ripped a 2-1 fastball to centerfield. Brian Gibson tagged up and scored the go-ahead run.
“(Kraemer) is one of the best natural athletes I’ve ever coached,” Stanford said. “He’s got great hand-eye coordination and anything close he’s going to put it in play hard.”
Mike Woulfe, a junior who relieved Tappan Zee starter Bryan Mitkowski in the fifth, allowed a single with two outs in the seventh to Cayne, who went 3 for 4 with a double. But Woulfe got game-ending grounder from Noia.
“(Woulfe) really came on last year as a sophomore, throwing complete games in the quarters and in the finals,” Stanford said. “I think he’s still starting to get better. There’s still so much upside for him.”
Mitkowski didn’t factor in the decision but pitched well again. The right-hander allowed two earned runs in 4 2/3 innings with four hits and four strikeouts.
Tappan Zee heads into next week with a tough back-to-back showdown with rival Pearl River.
Reach Kevin Devaney Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org