Champion Cadets win from behind
Brett Olayos hit a single up the middle and Matt Batten ripped a two-out double to left scoring, pinch runner Matt Laveneziana with the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth, to give St. Joseph a 2-1 victory over Northwestern in the Class M baseball state championship game at Palmer Field in Middletown on June 8.
Before the celebration could begin, Nick Williams had to finish his sterling performance on the hill worthy of a championship game.
Top-seeded Northwestern (23-1) seemingly had 11th-seeded St. Joseph right (19-5 where it wanted them, as the Highlanders had already won a pair of one-run games in extra innings in the tournament and won another one-run decision.
The Highlanders again appeared to be a team of destiny, after getting a walk and then a two-out single from Tim Kent to put the tying and winning runs on base in the bottom of the ninth.
Williams reared back and did what he did for most of the game — he induced a groundout (18 in the game). The ball headed toward second baseman Mark Hirschbeck, and the junior made his eighth assist of the game, throwing over to first baseman Ryan Moran for the final out.
It was the fourth state championship for the Cadets, and their first one since 1985.
Head coach Jim Chaves, in his three years at the helm, has compiled a 61-15 mark. After guiding St. Joseph to the quarterfinals two years ago, the semifinals last season, he took home the championship.
Williams went the full nine inning, scattering six hits with two strikeouts and a walk. He retired seven in a row midway through the game and nine in a row late in the game.
“Nick pitched such a great game for us and kept us in it the entire way,” Batten said. “We have had a never-say-die attitude all year. The last two years we came close, so we came in here this season wanting it real bad.”
Northwestern pitcher Zach August turned in a gutsy performance as well. The senior hurler surrendered nine hits and was able to overcome four fielding errors to give the Highlanders a chance heading into the ninth inning.
Ed Eseppi led off the first inning for the Highlanders by banging a single to right. Two strikeouts around a walk to Zach Risedorf almost had Williams out of the jam, until John Lippincott planted a run-scoring double into the right-field corner.
“Nick Williams gave us an incredible game. We knew he would be able to handle the pressure of this game and he just kept getting them to ground out,” Chaves said. “Stanley Wolpiuk (proposed starter) had a bit of a sore shoulder and we certainly didn’t want to risk an injury to him.
“We have had good pitching and great defense all year, and that’s what got us here. It’s a credit to all the seniors after we finished in the semis last year. But, I had a real good feeling when Matt came up to bat in that last inning.”
St. Joseph wasted no time tying the game, plating a run in the top of the second.
Mike Pulaski hit a ball to left that went in and out of the glove of the sliding outfielder. Olayos hit one down the third-base side, but the throw went past the first baseman to put runners at second and third.
Jake Amoroso hit a fielder’s choice to third, forcing the runner at second base, but the throw to first to complete the double play went into foul territory as the run scored.
The Cadets stranded 10 runners on base and saw a key opportunity come up short in the fifth.
Jon Prutting and Ryan Moran got hits to put runners at second and third. August, who only retired the side in order twice over nine innings, ended the threat with a groundout.
Williams and catcher Ishmael Herrera were in a zone, setting down the Highlanders. In the bottom of the sixth, they needed the defense to pull the plug on an uprising.
Risedorf hit one in the gap just out of the reach of a hard-charging Dave Otero, the Cadets left fielder. A botched bunt attempt held the runner at second and an intentional walk set up the double-play ball.
Hirschbeck took off at the crack of the bat and caught up to a ball. A flip to Batten, who was crossing the bag at second got the first out, and the perfect throw to Moran at first completed the inning-ending double play.
The drama that unfolded in the ninth put an end to the title chase, and St. Joseph celebrated like it had been waiting 28 years for this.