The Bethlehem baseball team entered the Section II, Class AA playoffs as the No. 5 seed out of the Suburban Council, but the Eagles have played more like a No. 1 seed.
Bethlehem (18-7) downed Foothills Council champion Queensbury 10-3 last Friday and Suburban Council North Division champion Shenendehowa 10-4 last Saturday to advance to Wednesday's Sectional semifinal against Big 10 co-champion Christian Brothers Academy at Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy.
The Saturday win was huge absolutely huge," said Bethlehem coach Rob Helm. "Shen is a great team, and we took it to them."
Bethlehem's offense was in fine form against Queensbury last Friday, as the Eagles pounded Spartans pitching for 12 hits. Matt Branigan led the hit parade with three RBI on a triple and a single, while Kyle Niehaus contributed three singles.
The onslaught continued Saturday against Shen as Bethlehem scored six runs over the first three innings to build a 6-1 lead. Branigan got things going with an RBI single in the top of the first inning, and Sean Quinlan and Alex Sobiecki had RBI singles in a three-run third inning.
"The key was we put the ball in play," said Helm. "They (Shen) made the mistakes when we put the ball in play, and we took advantage of those mistakes."
Niehaus doubled and singled for Bethlehem in the victory over Shen, and Quinlan pitched six strong innings before turning things over to reliever John Kellogg, who tossed a perfect seventh frame.
The weekend sweep extended Bethlehem's winning streak to six games heading into Wednesday's semifinal showdown with CBA, which scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to edge Colonie 7-6 in another quarterfinal game last Saturday.
"They've worked hard to put it all together," said Helm. "They've really come together as a team. Everybody is gaining confidence."
Wednesday's game against CBA marks the third time Bethlehem has reached the semifinals under Helm. The Eagles have lost both of their previous Sectional semifinal appearances, including last year's loss to eventual champion LaSalle.
"I've got seven guys who went through a lot last year and they don't want the season to end," said Helm.
Wednesday's semifinal between Bethlehem and CBA starts at 7 p.m.""