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Collegiate baseball: Rams win to clinch first playoff berth since 2008

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After a five-year wait, playoff baseball is coming back to Watertown.

The Watertown Rams were the first team clinch a playoff spot in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League playoffs with a 3-1 win over the Adirondack Trail Blazers on Thursday at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

Watertown manager Paul Alteri initially set a goal of 25 wins for the season, but now has bigger targets in mind.

“It’s obviously sweet, but we expect to get in and do damage when the playoffs get here,” Alteri said.

“We’ve got to start playing well enough that we want to peak in the playoffs,” he added.

The win caps a remarkable turnaround where the Rams have won 20 of their past 27 games after starting the season at 5-10 on June 25 following a 17-0 loss at Amsterdam.

Rams first baseman Dominic Lopez (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) said Alteri was a stabilizing factor in the team’s turnaround.

“He’s probably been the biggest influence.” said Lopez, who singled twice and was the only Ram with multiple hits.

“You got to have a good coach to have a good team, and he’s brought us to where we’re at,” he added.

Watertown (25-17) has a four-game lead in the PGCBL West Division over second-place Elmira, which lost 10-1 to East Division-leading Amsterdam.

The Rams’ magic number to clinch their first division title since 2006 is down to four. The last time Watertown was a division champion was when it won the East Division of New York Collegiate Baseball League. The team then was known as the Wizards.

Rams starter Peter Irvin (Skaggit Valley, Vermont) struck out eight and allowed only one unearned run on five hits en route to picking up the win.

Irvin said that he was using a variety of pitches to frustrate the Trail Blazers’ hitters.

“I was just looking to attack early and get ahead of guys,” said Irvin, who picked up his first win of the season. “I was using my slider today and giving them stuff they couldn’t hit.”

Daniel Reitzler came on in the ninth to pick up the save to cap a nervy night for the Watertown bullpen, which added three strikeouts.

Despite the win and the team’s pitching performance, Alteri was not pleased with the team’s execution.

“We did not execute small ball like we should,” Alteri said. “We didn’t throw the ball that well out of the bullpen either, but I guess we played well enough to get the win.”

Watertown scored in the first when J.J. Wagner’s RBI groundout plated Joe Moroney. Riley Smith scored in the second on a Moroney double-play grounder to make it 2-0. The Rams then added an insurance run in the seventh when Trevor Marino scored on a passed ball by Adirondack catcher Dan Cecilia.

The Trail Blazers (16-25) plated their only run in second when Matt Chiadez scored on a throwing error by catcher Collin Theroux after stealing third.

Trail Blazers starter Chris Rheaume (1-3) went seven innings and fanned six, but walked eight on his way to picking up the loss.

In the ninth, Adirondack leadoff man Mike Parsons reached first base after getting hit by Reitzler and then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Theroux’s throw got away from third baseman J.J. Wagner when Parsons advanced to third on the same play. Parsons then tried to score, but was called out when Wagner threw to Theroux at home.

Adirondack manager Ryne Foster argued to call, but did not get it overturned.

“The umpire thought the catcher got the tag down, but he was the only (one) who thought he got the tag down, including the catcher.” Foster said.

Adirondack is still not out of the mix for the second wild-card spot. It is a game behind the third-place Newark for the final West Division playoff berth. Foster said he has faith that his team can still make it into the postseason.

“We just got to keep playing baseball,” Foster said. “It’s a good group of guys. It’s summer ball, and we’ll give it a run here.”

n NOTES: Watertown now leads the season series with Adirondack, 7-2. The last meeting between the two clubs will be Monday at Boonville. ... Before the game, Watertown mayor Jeff Graham was presented with the inaugural Mayor’s Cup for the Rams having clinched the season series. ... Watertown hosts Newark at 7 tonight at the Fairgrounds.

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