Saranac Lake Surge win the Empire League Championship
TUPPER LAKE — For the first time since the team’s inception in 2016, the Saranac Lake Surge are Empire Professional Baseball League champions.
“I’ve never won anything in my life. No words can describe how I feel,” Brandon Gutzler said. “Everybody feels so good, we worked so hard, we were always put up against the odds of everything and we came all the way back and we did it.”
The Surge defeated the Plattsburgh Thunderbirds 3-0 in a best of five series finale at the Municipal Park in Tupper Lake on Monday.
The Surge were led by Jay Palais, who earned the win by pitching six innings without giving up a run.
“I knew I had to compete again against their top pitcher (Jhoendri) Herrera, he throws very hard,” Palais said. “I pitched game one and went seven innings, this game I wanted to go as long as I could because my arm was not 100%, but I felt great all my pitches were working.”
On the offensive side, Kenny Hernandez led the way for the Surge with three hits and two runs.
In the second inning, Hernadez hit a leadoff double, the next two batters would strike out forcing Kyle Robinson up to the plate.
Robinson, who has been on the Surge since 2019, hit a ball that bounced right over the shortstop’s head which drove in a run, to take a 1-0 lead.
In the seventh inning, Shawn McFeggan came into pitch for the Surge and got himself into a jam with the Thunderbirds loading the bases with two outs. Thunderbirds’ Luis Rojas lined out, which left the team scoreless.
With the Surge needing to put the game out of reach in the eighth inning, a runner stood on second base as Juan Pena rocketed a ball over the outfielders head for a double.
“It was a tough situation when we’re just up by one at the end of the game. My teammates have been having my back all year round it felt amazing to step up at the right time,” Pena said.
Following Pena’s RBI, Ryan Dickt kept the momentum rolling with a single, to push the score 3-0.
That score did not change and the Surge became champions.
“We played together, it felt as if any opportunities, where we were struggling we kicked it right back up,” Pena said. “We never let down on the gas. Usually, champions in life besides baseball are the people that are the most persistent, they are the people that don’t give up and that was key to the whole year and coming down to the championship.”
For the Surge, the season had been filled with a lot of ups and downs. In the first 10 games of the season, the Surge lost seven games and only won three. The team was at the bottom of the league standings.
“We finally found our stroke and we just kept rolling with it,” A.J. Wright said. “We hit a little speed bump along the way, but that happens with the season. I’m glad we found the spot when we did, we got hot at the right time, and luckily it turned out the way it did.”
The Surge had not held the first place spot in the EPBL until July 25, when the team took full control of the EPBL.
“At the beginning of the year, we are a little selfish. After a while, we start to realize that we are actually pretty good, we can play as a team. We start to get that collective mind together and we started winning and we got a hot streak and the rest was history,” Gutzler said.
The ability to fight back from being down likely helped the team in the playoffs.
The Surge won the first game of the championship series, but then lost the next two games.
On the brink of elimination, the team forced the winner-take-all matchup as it defeated the Thunderbirds 7-2 on Sunday.
“We were all confident, those two games in the middle we didn’t play our best ball,” Wright said. “Luckily we got back on track yesterday and tonight and we obviously finished the job.”
The overcoming of adversity seemed to be the driving force the team needed to win the EPBL championship.
“If you look at the whole season, this team has always fought back,” Gutzler said. “We might get punched in the mouth one time but you better get ready for that monster that is about to come out.”
After the Surge recorded the final out of the game, the team soaked each other in beer and champagne.
The team picked up Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau and poured beer and champagne on top of him in celebration.
On Monday, Rabideau asked the Saranac Lake Village Board what they would do if the Surge won.
“Free Beer,” Village board member Melinda Little responded.