WEEDSPORT — It's been almost six years since the Port Byron/Union Springs and Weedsport baseball programs competed on the same field as divisional adversaries.
The first edition of the renewed rivalry swung the Panthers' way.
Port Byron/Union Springs scored five runs in the top of the sixth inning to come back and beat Weedsport 7-3 Thursday in Weedsport. The Panthers received six strong innings from starting pitcher Kyle Bailey, who kept PB/US in striking distance, before brother Ryan Bailey came in for the final three outs to finish the game.
Because of a merger between Port Byron and Union Springs' baseball teams that started in 2014, meetings on the diamond between the two Cayuga County programs have been limited. For the last five years, Union Springs served as the host school for the varsity program and the team competed in Section IV. Matchups with Weedsport were limited to non-league play or the county tournament, and even so the games were few and far between; the two programs haven't met on the diamond since 2015.
That changed for this season with Port Byron taking over as the host school for varsity baseball with Union Springs. For the team members that attend school at Port Byron, a win over the Warriors was long overdue.
"I think it meant a little more to the Port Byron boys," PB/US coach Bill Walter said. "You could sense they've been getting beat up in other sports, so they really had this marked on the schedule. It was a nice win for us guys."
Zach Nickerson was the Panthers' leading hitter, going 4-for-5 with three RBIs and a run. Jake McNabb posted three hits and three RBIs, Ryan Bailey recorded two hits with an RBI, and Kyle Bailey finished 2-for-3 with a walk.
The key moment in the game came in the top of the sixth with Weedsport ahead 3-2 and PB/US up to bat. The Panthers loaded the bases with none out and because of New York state's pitch count rules, the Warriors were forced to replace starting pitcher Owen Mabbett and make a few defensive switches.
Facing a cold reliever and some defenders out of their natural position, PB/US beat out a handful of ground balls to extend the inning, ultimately scoring five runs to take the lead.
"Starting pitching is something that you value, and to get Owen to max out today was a huge relief for us," Weedsport coach Rob Matson said. "Alex Murray comes in and does exactly what he needs to do. He gets a comebacker and a couple double-play balls ... we got what we wanted but we just couldn't convert."
The Panthers have used a similar formula in their two games so far this season. In both outings, Kyle Bailey went six strong before Ryan Bailey finished off the final inning. Against Weedsport, Kyle Bailey allowed three runs (none earned), four hits and one walk while striking out four.
"We're real deep with our pitching staff," Walter said. "It worked out that we had a lot of time between games so we could throw Kyle twice, but I have no squabbles with any of my pitchers. I could've started Jake McNabb, Zach Nickerson, any one of those guys today, but it's really nice to have a lead and bring Ryan in to close out any game."
Alex Murray (run), Jake Hickok (run) and Connor Mabbett (RBI) each had a multi-hit game for the Warriors. Jake Brown and Reese Ahearn added one hit apiece, and Brandon Webster added a walk and a stolen base.
It's the second straight game that Brown has recorded a triple. At a venue with a normal outfield fence, his hit might've been deep enough for a home run.
"We've thought highly of Jake. I've coached him since seventh grade and watching him develop and get bigger every year has been fun to see," Matson said. "It's just getting him to understand the potential he has. We want him to understand like, 'Dude, you're blessed with talent and we're going to maximize it.' The next two years you're going to hear his name a lot."
Weedsport (1-2) finishes up a stretch of three games in three days against Pulaski Friday. Despite losses in consecutive days to county rivals, Matson doesn't want his team to get discouraged.
"We went toe to toe with a team that's been real good the last couple years. We know we can play with them," Matson said. "We've got to go into every day with a positive mindset. If you think you can do it, eventually things will go our way. Everything we want to do is within reach."
Port Byron/Union Springs (2-0) also returns to the field Friday at Onondaga, where the Panthers want to continue their strong start to what they hope will be a special season.
"We're starting to hit the ball, we're obviously deep in pitching and our defense will tighten up as the temperature hopefully gets warmer," Walter said. "I told them that we got the first rung on the ladder last week and here's our second rung. We'll just keep climbing that ladder."