By PAUL GOTHAM
The text message arrived early Saturday evening while Brandon DeRosa and his Pittsford Sutherland Knights waited to take on Olean High School in the Class A Far West Regional at Frontier Field.
Seventy-five miles away in Niagara Falls, Tony Fuller’s McQuaid Knights advanced to the New York State Class AA semi-final with a 5-4 victory over Clarence (VI). Fuller wanted to let his colleague know that he had kept his end of the bargain.
“We were rooting for each other to do well,” DeRosa said. “After they won on Saturday, Tony texted me ‘All right step one is done. You guys got to finish the job.'”
On Friday, the two former Monroe Community College Tribunes will make their first trips to the state Final Four as head coaches.
“We joked about how cool it would be to make a nice run and potentially both teams getting to Binghamton,” said Fuller. “It’s definitely pretty special.”
Two wins separate both coaches and their respective teams from winning a title – something they did plenty of as players. Fuller was a part of the 2005 and 2006 MCC teams under head coach Skip Bailey which won a pair of Region 3 Division II championships.
DeRosa played on Bailey’s last Monroe team which won the 2007 Regional crown before taking the East District championship and clinching a spot in the NJCAA DII World Series. One year later under first-year head coach Mike Kelly, DeRosa and the Tribunes returned to the World Series and finished third in the nation.
“It’s definitely special, but I’m not surprised,” DeRosa said of the two former players from the Monroe program succeeding in the coaching ranks. “What we learned from Coach Bailey when he was our head coach is discipline, work ethic. You have to be able to compete with teams. You have to be mentally tougher.”
They also learned a style of play that both of their teams incorporate.
Putting runners in motion. Taking the extra base. Moving runners 90 feet. Both McQuaid and Sutherland force opponents to make defensive plays.
“My whole philosophy is putting pressure on teams,” DeRosa explained. “It’s much easier for a pitcher with a guy on first to throw then having a guy on second. Putting that pressure on teams is huge for us. It’s paid off. Any time we get a guy on, and we can move him over we’re going to do that.”
“Small ball, bunting the baseball and being aggressive I learned from Skip,” Fuller stated. “We’re not giving away outs. We’re trying to put pressure on the defense. For whatever reason defenses just struggling handling bunts. They struggle stopping baserunners from stealing, and we like to exploit that by being really good at it. It’s our identity.”
Fuller hit .317 in 86 games for the Tribunes. He drove in 44 runs. DeRosa finished 3-1 with five saves in 30 appearances during his two years. The right-hander compiled an ERA of 2.86 over 63 innings of work.
What Bailey saw in his former players, though, is something that can’t be measured with statistics.
“Both coaches were very similar as players in that neither one was overly talented,” Bailey said. “They succeeded with hard work, dedication and big hearts. Those traits made them extremely competitive baseball players, and they will take players who are average and make better on and off the field.”
Sutherland (16-9) will face reigning state champion Wantagh (VIII). The Warriors (22-5) are led by four players with Division-I commitments: Anthony D’Onofrio (Hofstra), Trevor Fagan (Sacred Heart), Anthony Fontana (Furman) and Jimmy Joyce (Hofstra).
Seniors Max Carver, Sam Kistler, Charlie Pellegrini, Nate Richardson and Jack Zielinski pace the Sutherland attack. Sutherland beat Wantagh, 6-5 in the 2010 Final Four.
A 6:30 p.m. first pitch is scheduled at Union-Endicott High School.
McQuaid (17-5) will face Massapequa (VIII) in the Class AA semi-final.
Pitchers Dan Gdanski and Nick Collins combined as Massapequa (22-6) beat Commack in the Long Island Championship. Senior Luke O’Mahoney (1B) and Chris Wasson (SS) along with freshman third baseman Johnny Castagnozzi pace the Chiefs offense.
Seniors Tyler Cyrus and Billy Kehrig lead the McQuaid offense. Junior Erik Johnson and sophomore Hunter Walsh head the Knights pitching staff. A 5:30 p.m. first pitch is slated for Maine-Endwell High School.
“The big thing about the state tournament is you can’t go there and think it’s going to be bigger than it is,” Fuller stated. “We’re there for a reason. We’re good enough to be there, and I think we’re good enough to win it as long as we continue to do what we’ve been doing for the last month.”