Yanks secure second straight title

Kontos, two relievers combine on 2-0 blanking of ValleyCats

(George Napolitano)

September 15, 2006 8:40 PM

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- After a day of torrential rain, the skies opened long enough for the Tri-City ValleyCats and Staten Island Yankees to play winner-take-all Game 3 of the New York-Penn League Championship series on Friday.

The Yankees took full advantage of the opportunity. Behind the stellar pitching of George Kontos and the timely hitting of Kyle Larsen, Staten Island blanked the ValleyCats, 2-0, to win its second straight NYPL title.

Kontos, a fifth-round draft pick out of Northwestern, shut down a ValleyCats lineup that had broken through for nine runs in Game 2. The 21-year-old right-hander scattered five hits and three walks over six scoreless innings and struck out a career-high 11 batters.

"This was the most intense game I'd ever been in", he said. "I just tried to stay loose and remind myself not to overthrow."

Kontos' loaded the bases in a heart-stopping sixth, running the count to 3-0 on Chris Johnson before inducing him to pop up to second to end the inning.

"I realized I was trying to do too much in that situation," he said. "I took a step back, took a deep breath and got out of it."

Tri-City starter Chris Salamida, the league's best pitcher this season, entered with an 0.94 ERA in 15 starts. But Staten Island plated a run with two outs in the first and never looked back. Mitch Holligoss ripped a double down the left-field line and Larsen followed with an RBI single.

"Salamida is an awesome pitcher and we knew this game wouldn't be high-scoring," said Larsen. "He got me to 0-2, and I was just happy to get a pitch to hit."

The Yankees struck again in the third, and again it was Larsen who came through with an RBI. Chris Kunda led off with a bloop double down the left field line, advanced to third on Hilligoss' groundout and scored on Larsen's sacrifice fly.

It was all the offense Staten Island needed. Salamida finished up with three shutout innings, while Chad Wagler and Victor Garate set the Yankees down in order in the seventh and eighth.

Peterson relieved Kontos and breezed through the seventh before allowing a two-out infield single to Max Sapp and walking Game 2 hero James Van Ostrand. Staten Island manager Gaylen Pitts opted for closer Mark Melancon, who retired Justin Tellam on a groundout to second to escape the jam.

Melancon's true test came in the ninth, however, when he took the mound with the Yankees just three outs away from repeating as champions. The 21-year-old right-hander struck out Johnson, got Aaron Bulkley to line to second and, with the crowd on its feet and his teammates hopping up and down on the top step of the dugout, whiffed Greg Buchanan.

Larsen was one of the few Baby Bombers who was on last year's championship team, so for him, the victory was doubly sweet.

"Last year, we played tremendously from start to finish", he said. "But this year was more up-and-down. We really had to battle in this series, so that made winning even sweeter."

"Now, we can all just go home and relax."

Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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