DECATUR – They did not quite steal Al Davis’ signature line (Just win, baby) when it was all said and done.
But close enough.
In the tournament, what matters is finding a way to win, Norwell baseball coach Andy McClain said after his Knights found a way in a 5-4 victory over Heritage in the Class 3A Bellmont Sectional semifinals Friday.
Norwell will face Eastbrook, a 12-7 winner over Whitko, in Monday’s 1 p.m. championship game.
The tournament’s all about grinding it out. A win is a win, whether it’s 15-0 or 3-2, Norwell’s senior ace Josh VanMeter said.
Even when you have to claim it twice.
That was essentially what unfolded in the last two innings Friday, after VanMeter and Heritage freshman Andrew Saalfrank spent most of the evening locked up in a stellar pitcher’s duel. Both pitchers had scattered four hits and Heritage led 2-1 when Norwell came to the bottom of the sixth, and when Saalfrank got two of the first three batters on a fly ball to right and his sixth strikeout, it looked as if it might stay 2-1 until the end.
Fate or the baseball gods or just pure strangeness had other plans.
With two out and Tailur Szarenski already aboard, Saalfrank promptly walked the next two batters, loading the bases.
Then he grazed Spencer Newell with a pitch, scoring a run.
Then he hit VanMeter, scoring another run.
Then pinch hitter Jacob Meyer smacked a single, scoring a third run.
Suddenly Norwell led 4-2 with VanMeter looking to close it out in the seventh.
He got the first batters on a fly ball to center and grounder to second, and when pinch hitter Matthew Gibson swung and missed at a VanMeter delivery for strike three, the game was over for a nanosecond – until, that is, the third strike for the final out ticked off Norwell catcher Cale Schumm’s glove to the screen, sending Gibson scurrying to first.
Given a reprieve, the Patriots promptly tied it on Cole Gerardot’s RBI double and Kyle Mack’s RBI single.
To the bottom of the seventh they all went.
Some weird things there on that strike three, McClain said.
And Norwell had a few wonderful things left in its tank. With one out in the Norwell seventh, Jonah Patten reached on a fielder’s choice. He took second on a passed ball, and then, with two outs, slid home in a welter of dust on Luke Hunter’s two-out single as the Norwell dugout erupted.
Another walkoff, said VanMeter, who scattered six hits ands struck out 11. It’s insane.
Just a little, maybe.
We’ve hit the ball hard and well all season, but again it comes back to finding a way to win any way you can, McClain said. In the tournament, throughout a baseball season, and throughout a baseball game, all of us that know and love baseball know crazy things can happen.
You find a way to make ’em go your way and come out on top.