Former Surge players lift Plattsburgh to victory

Stephen Octave of the Plattsburgh Thunderbirds leans away from a high pitch snagged by New Hampshire Wild catcher Austin Mettica during Wednesday’s game in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — Stephen Octave must have felt right at home on Wednesday.

A former member of the Saranac Lake Surge, Octave came through for his new team when he lifted the Plattsburgh Thunderbirds to victory in the opening game of the Empire Professional Baseball League’s best-of-three championship series.

Octave, a catcher who was among a handful of former Surge players picked up by the Thunderbirds when the regular season ended, knocked in five runs with a triple and a three-run homer to power Plattsburgh to a 7-6 victory over the New Hampshire Wild to kick off the championship series. He was the Thunderbird’s designated hitter.

The game was played on the Surge’s home field at Petrova Avenue in Saranac Lake, and the 22-year-old Octave, who won the home run derby on the same diamond last month, came through with the winning hit, rallying the Thunderbirds to victory with a monster blast in the bottom of the seventh inning. Octave’s round-tripper sailed out of the ball park, bounced off the black top on Caranas Avenue and hit a house across the street from the high school football stands.

The hit lifted Plattsburgh to a 7-5 edge at the time and the lead held up after the Wild scored one more run in the top of the ninth inning during the back-and-forth matchup.

Taran Tani of the Plattsburgh Thunderbirds hauls in a fly ball while right fielder Hiroki Itakura backs up the play during Wednesday’s game. Both players were members of the Saranac Lake Surge through the end of the regular season. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“I love being back here. I love this field,” Octave said. “That home run, definitely my most exciting one of the season.

“After my last game with the Surge, some of us got traded pretty much all over,” Octave added. “I think there are four of us from the Surge who went to Plattsburgh and three went to the Wild. It’s fun. A lot more baseball for all of us.”

Plattsburgh grabbed a 2-1 lead in the first inning thanks to Octave’s triple that drove in his new teammates Jordan Holloman Scott and Simon Palenchar. Holloman Scott reached on a double and Palenchar walked to set up Octave’s two-run shot.

The score remained 2-1 in favor of Plattsburgh until the top of the fifth when New Hampshire’s batters heated up by rapping out three straight hits against Thunderbirds’ starting pitcher Andrew Kramer. Steven Figueroa led off the inning with an inside the park home run to tie the game at 2-2. Mark Shkrelja followed in the order with a triple and then was driven home on a single by Kenneth Hutchinson to put the Wild on top 3-2. Hutchinson then advanced to second on a wild pitch, moved to third on a single from Patrick Sheehan and reached the plate on an error to up New Hampshire’s lead to 4-2.

Another former Surge player, Hiroki Itakura, came up big for Plattsburgh in the bottom of the fifth, sending a home run shot over the right field fence to make it a 4-3 contest. The Wild and Thunderbirds each scored single runs in the sixth to move the score to 5-4 and ultimately set up Plattsburgh’s seventh inning rally.

The Wild were held scoreless in the top of the seventh, an inning where Plattsburgh utilized another new player from the Surge, reliever Chikara Igami, who retired the side.

Trailing 5-4, Plattsburgh took control in the bottom of the frame. Holloman Scott reached base on a catcher’s obstruction call, Palenchar then singled, and Octave cleared the bases to put the Thunderbirds on top to stay.

This year’s championship series features the squads that finished first and second in the six-team league. The Thunderbirds won the regular season and the top seed with a 21-13 mark and the Wild were second with a 21-14 record. When the regular season concluded, the four teams that advanced to the playoffs were permitted to make deals for players, and Plattsburgh manager Jerry Gonzalez said he was fortunate to get the players he did.

“Since we finished on top, I was actually the last team to pick,” Gonzalez said. “Most teams went after pitchers, and they left out one, who I picked up in Alex Vargas, and they left out all these very good hitters like Hiroki and Steve Octave. Today they both homered for me and helped this team win.

“With those guys being available, I didn’t hesitate,” Gonzalez continued. “Playing against them throughout the season, I knew they had the talent. That was a no-brainer for me. Those are the guys I went for at the trade deadline, and as you can see, it worked out well.”

Although his team lost, Wild manager Scott Nathanson said Wednesday’s final series opener is just what Empire League baseball is all about.

“A great game. Both teams are very good, very solid,” Nathanson said. “Obviously disappointed with the loss but it was very good baseball. Back and forth, the teams worked very hard and they battled to knock in some runs. We left one pitch in a bad spot. It became the three-run home run and that was the difference in the game.

“The mission of the league is to showcase the players, and the idea is you want the best players playing in the playoffs, so he (Octave) was here and he did his thing.”

The second game in the final series is slated for today, and will be followed by a third and deciding matchup if necessary on Friday. Both games are scheduled to start at noon at Petrova Avenue.