By Steve Wilaj
As much as Andy Timko believes in his starting lineup, the Astro Falcons coach has another philosophy.
“Coach Andy always tells us that the bench players can be the most important players in the game and it could happen to anybody at any time,” said Astro’s Jim Leone.
Thursday at Cene Park, Timko’s belief rang especially true.
Behind a pinch-hit three-RBI double from Leone and five strong innings of relief from pitcher Kane Durkin, the Astro Falcons defeated Kuboff & Associates, 5-0, to advance to the Class B finals.
“He tells us to always stay ready and stay loose,” Leone said. “He called on me today and I was able to produce some runs.”
Leone’s key at-bat came in the sixth inning with Astro clinging to a 1-0 lead.
The Falcons loaded the bases with no outs, but Kuboff pitcher Robert Vargo retired two in a row.
Then, Leone — pinch-hitting for Jim Standohar — plugged the right-center field gap to clear the bases and give Astro a comfortable 4-0 lead.
“It feels great to put the end-cap on a good series and beat a good team,” Leone said.
After falling 7-2 in Game 1 on Wednesday, Kuboff came out strong, loading the bases in the second and third innings. However, each time it came up empty.
Astro starting pitcher Troy Martin walked the bases loaded in the second, but escaped unharmed thanks to an inning-ending leaping grab by shortstop Brendan Cox.
“He’s a winner and has been a winner all of his life,” Timko said of Cox. “He got that just with the tip of his glove.”
Durkin relieved Martin in the third, escaping a bases loaded jam with a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.
“I wasn’t even expecting to pitch — Troy’s a good pitcher and usually gets the job done,” he said. “But I was ready. You always have to be ready because you never know what could happen.”
It was smooth sailing the rest of the way for Durkin, as he worked five scoreless innings in earning the victory. He gave up five hits while walking and striking out none.
“We had good defense behind me,” Durkin said. “I had to rely on them today and they did a good job.”
The Kuboff defense wasn’t as efficient, as they committed four errors. Vargo went 6 2/3 innings, allowing five runs on 10 hits. Brooks Pletcher led Kuboff with two hits.
The Falcons were paced by three hits from Chris Wastchak, while Nick Andrews and Keyshawn D’orso each had two hits. Astro will meet Creekside Fitness in the finals.
“It’s gonna be a tough series — they beat us two out of three this year,” Timko said. “They got a good team, but we got a good team.”