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Struggling Metro Cadets score split with Blazers

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How the mighty have fallen.

Mired at the bottom of the ACBL’s Kaiser Division, the 2001 Metro Cadets — a team that cruised to the playoffs a year before — have been undermined by three things: pitching, pitching and more pitching. While last year’s crew distanced themselves from the rest of the league on the strength of their staff, injuries and defections have decimated this year’s rotation.

At 6-22, the Cadets have found that it’s much more lonely craning their necks up at the rest of the league than it is gazing down.

“[The difference between this year and last has been] apples and watermelons,” said Cadets head coach Mike Cuomo. “We ran away with the league last year.”

Righthander Jason Fardella, slated as the team’s ace for the postseason, was plucked from the roster by the New York Mets in the Major League Draft. Pitchers Marc Goldberg and Jason Emerson, slotted as No. 1 and 2 in the rotation entering the season, were lost to arm problems and righthander potential No. 3 Johnnie Mazzeo had to return home to Canada to take care of personal problems.

The team’s fifth starter, Keith Haacke, slid up to first in the rotation, while reliever Anthony Paolillo hopped up to the second spot. While the Cadets’ top fill-ins have performed admirably, it has been on the third and fourth days that the rotation has become a bit unpredictable.

“Our position players have steadily improved,” said assistant coach Charlie Papetti. “But the problem has been our pitching. We’ve lost our top six pitchers, and we’ve had the bottom six guys, who are usually in the bullpen, carrying the load.”

While the team’s weakened rotation has left victories few and far between, the Cadets showed signs of life in Saturday’s double-header with the Quakertown Blazers at St. John’s. After a 12-0 loss to Newburgh Thursday that saw starter Michael Arias get pounded for 10 earned runs and the team chalk up five errors in the field, the Cadets looked to their ace to snap the streak.

With Haacke keeping the Blazers at bay, the Cadets had the opportunity to strike first in the bottom of the third. After catcher Jeff Quiros struck out looking, Ray Downs drew a walk. Dustin Downs followed by drilling a single through the right side of the infield, advancing Downs to second. With the home team threatening, Blazers pitcher Matt Szustowicz balked, sending the runners to second and third with only one out. With the Cadets poised to break through in the scoring column, the righthander settled down, getting both Jimmy McCurdy and Tom Merkle to pop out to short.

With Haacke holding the Blazer line-up to a handful of hits through the first five frames, the Cadets threatened again in the bottom of the fifth. Jeff Fischette led off by lashing a single into left field and promptly stole second two pitches later. After two failed attempts to sacrifice Fischette over, Quiros advanced the runner with a grounder to first, putting a man on third with only one out. Again Szustowicz bore down. With the infield drawn in, the righthander induced Downs to ground out to second, with Fischette staying put, and got McCurdy to ground out to short, thwarting yet another Cadet rally.

After both lineups went down in order in the sixth, Quakertown began to chip away at a wearied Haacke. After Haacke struck out lead-off hitter Mike Scheider, centerfielder Scott Rich roped a single up the middle. Tim Staszewski followed with a single between short and third, putting runners on first and second with one out. Haacke walked Blake Boyer to load the bases.

Haacke struck out shortstop Mike Braender and took Jared Trout to a full count before walking in a run. After getting catcher Rich Brooks to force out to second, a seething Haacke trudged back to the dugout, furious at himself for allowing what would prove to be the decisive run.

After Quakertown inserted closer Jim Gendazek to pitch the seventh, Cadet catcher Eddie Kull scorched a liner down the first base line, only to have it snagged by Blazer first baseman Boyer. It was that sort of game for the blue-clad home team.

After second baseman Bobby Paduano struck out looking, Fischette laced a two-out single to right field. But Gendazek was able to close out the seventh when Quiros hit a soft liner to short that Braender bobbled, but fired over to first in time.

With another agonizing loss in the books, the Cadets hoped to break through in the second game.

While the Cadet line-up was once again kept in check, this time by stocky righthander Mike Mihalik, the home team managed to scrape a run across in the bottom of the fifth, when second baseman Bobby Paduano shook off a lingering slump to score Nichols Pena from second with a single to left, giving the Cadets a 1-0 edge.

The combination of starter Henry Deleon, Louis Vigorano, and Pena held the Blazers scoreless entering the top half of the seventh, when Pena surrendered a bases-loaded walk to Mark Reichly, scoring Tim Straszewski to tie the game at one. With the game deadlocked in a 1-1 tie, Kull led off the final frame looking to ignite a rally.

“All day long I’d been jumping at the curve and not waiting on it,” said Kull of his last at-bat. “I knew I’d see another one, and I just waited.”

Kull got the breaking pitch he was waiting for and ripped a ball to right that hopped over the rightfielder’s head, the stocky Stony Brook sophomore settling into second with a double.

After a botched attempt at sacrificing Kull to third Pena struck out. Fischette followed by grounding out to third, Kull holding at second.

With two outs up came the resurgent Paduano, looking to put the game out of reach. With a blooper to center that found a hole, Kull scampered home from second, giving the Cadets a 2-1 win and creating a festive atmosphere outside the dugout, high fives all-around.

For a team that has struggled so mightily over the course of the summer season, it was a taste of redemption.

“I just tried to be aggressive up there,” said Paduano. I felt comfortable in the batter’s box all day long, I just wasn’t being aggressive and hitting my pitches. That last one just found a spot.”

Reach contributing writer Brian Towey by e-mail at TimesLedgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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