The Saline varsity baseball team will compete in the state championship game for the first time since 2010.
Saline came from behind to beat to beat the defending state champs from Hartland, 5-3, in the semifinal at Michigan State University Thursday. The Hornets will face Warren DeLaSalle in the state championship game at 11:30 a.m., Saturday at Michigan State University.
Josh “The Exterminator” Nelson pitch 4 1/3 strong innings in relief for the victory. He entered the game in the third inning with two outs and the bases loaded and got out of the jam to keep the Hornets ahead 2-1. In the fifth, Hartland got to Nelson for two runs. But Saline battled back in the bottom of the inning. Nelson’s sacrifice fly to centerfield scored Ryan Foley to tie the game. Then Richard Hovde put Saline ahead with a two-run single scoring Thomas Miller and Zachary Owings.
It was yet another struggle and another victory for the Hornets, who’ve been behind in all but one of their playoff games yet, obviously, managed to win the all.
Coach Scott Theisen said this team has learned how to fight through adversity.
“I think they've learned a little bit about themselves and how to compete, and how to believe in one another, and how to know that every inning counts. Use all three outs every inning and you just never know what's going to happen,” Theisen said.
Nobody symbolizes those traits more than Josh Nelson. The senior righthanded pitcher has entered games with the bases loaded three times in this tournament, and he’s led the Hornets out unscathed each time.
“I’m kind of used to it. You just have to throw strikes and get ground balls. Throw strikes and nothing bad can happen,” Nelson said.
Richard Hovde, who had big hits in the quarterfinal and the game-winning hit in the semifinal, said the team is better because of the adversity it’s faced.
“We’ve become a lot better of a team. We don’t quit on ourselves. We know we’re never out of a game,” Hovde said. “We always battle.”
On Thursday, Saline started junior righthander Sean O’Keefe. Hartland countered with senior lefty Nathan Lohmeier.
In the first, O’Keefe retired the Eagles in order, getting the lead-off man with a ground ball to short and striking out the next twobatters.
Saline managed a one-out single by Zachary Owings in the bottom of the first.
In the second, O’Keefe got into some trouble. He hit John Baker and then walked Max Hendricks on four pitches. Cade Martin bunted everyone up a base. O’Keefe got things under control by striking out Richard Bortle. He got Gary Turnbull to fly to rightfield to end the inning.
Saline got on the board in the bottom of the first. With two out, Cole Daniels singled to centerfield and took second on a balk. Kellan Huang hit a line drive to leftfield for a single. Daniels avoided the tag and dove into home plate for the game’s first run. Ryan Foley followed with an RBI triple to left to make it 2-0.
In the third, Hartland got on the board. Alexander Vydick hit a one-out double to the gap in center-left. Jack Slavin followed with a single. Hunter DeLanoy scored Vydick with a sacrifice fly to center. O’Keefe got into trouble. He gave up a single to Baker and then walked Hendricks. Coach Theisen called Nelson in from the bullpen. Nelson struck out Martin to end the threat and keep the game tied at one.
In Saline’s half of the third, Thomas Miller led off with a single. But he was erased with a quick pick-off move from Lohmeier. With two outs, Nelson reached base on an error, but Saline couldn’t move him.
In the fourth, DeLanoy reached on an error. But he was quickly erased when Jacob Finkbeiner handled a hot shot at the hot corner. He threw to Miller at second and Miller relayed to first for the doubleplay. Nelson walked the next hitter but struck out Vydick to end the inning.
In Saline’s half of the fourth it was Hartland’s turn to show off slick defense. With one out, Daniels singled to left. Huang followed with a screamer down the first base line. It was caught by Baker and he touched first for the inning-ending doubleplay.
In the fifth, Nelson showed some signs of fatigue. He opened the inning by walking Salvin. DeLanoy followed with a double down the leftfield line to tie the game. Baker hit a single up the middle to score DeLanoy and give Hartland a 3-2 lead. CF Zach Schwartzenberger made a great running catch to deny Hendricks an extra-base hit. Nelson seemed to settle in. He struck out Martin and Bortle to end the inning.
The Hornets, who seemed a little flat after O’Keefe was pulled, finally game to life again at the plate in the bottom of the fifth. Foley walked to lead off the inning. With one out, Miller singled to centerfield. With Owings up, a passed ball moved the runners up a base. Owings walked to load the bases. That brought up Nelson, who’d shown signs of tiring. Theisen considered a pinch hitter.
“We thought about maybe swinging someone. But then we would have had to take him off the mound,” Theisen said. “Josh usually makes contact. We wanted him to put it in play and then we'd put him back out on the mound and we're in good shape.”
That’s what happened. Nelson hit a fly ball to rightfield. It wasn’t very deep, but it was plenty deep enough to score Foley from third.
“Nelson's sac fly was big. It tied it. It gave us more confidence. We're back in this,” Theisen said.
Hovde stepped up and hit a hard single to center, scoring Owings and Miller. Saline led 5-3.
“I knew I wanted to be aggressive with runners in scoring position. I got my pitch (a fastball) and hit it. Luckily it fell and we scored runs,” Hovde said.
Four of Saline’s five runs came on two-out hits.
In the sixth, Nelson allowed a one-out walk to Jake Moyer. But the defense came up big again. Vydick hit a sharp grounder to Owings, who started a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
In the sixth Kyle Kletzka relieved Lohmeier. H gave up a single to Huang. Foley bunted him over to second. Huang took third on a passed ball. Kletzka struck Schwartzenberger to put runners at first and third. But Miller grounded into a doubleplay to end the inning.
Nelson put the Eagles down in order in the seventh. He struck out Slavin and then got DeLanoy and John Baker to fly out.
The team is becoming accustomed to clutch performances from Nelson.
“Nelly’s been awesome. He’s been our best guy all year, so it was great for him to come in like that. He pitched a great game,” Hovde said.
Nelson isn’t that prototypical 6’3 power pitcher you’ll often find in the final four of state baseball tournament. But he’s now 11-0 this year. He’s been great as a starter and he’s answered the bell when called in as a reliever.
“He's sneaky quick. He has a unique arm angle and deceptive motion on his ball,” Theisen said. “The slider is a pitch a lot of kids don't see in high school and that's what he throws.”
Nelson described what makes him effective.
“I think it’s my attitude, my focus. My fastball has a lot of run on it and my slider moves a lot and it’s tough for hitters to see it first time around,” Nelson said.
Though Nelson’s pitched a lot of innings in the state tournament – he’s pitched in all but one playoff game – he said he’ll be ready to go if Theisen calls his name Saturday in the state championship game.
“I’m 100 percent ready,” Nelson said. “I’m stoked and excited and I can’t wait.”
The Saline Post 3 Stars
1. Josh Nelson - Got a important out with the bases load in the third and then pitched 4 more strong innings for the win. Also had an important RBI on a sacrifice fly, to tie the game in the fifth.
2. Richard Hovde - Had the game-winning hit, a two-run single in the fifth.
3. Ryan Foley - Tripled to drive in one run and then walked and scored the tying run as Saline rallied in the fifth.
2016 MHSAA BASEBALL FINALS
Hartland vs Saline
Jun 16, 2016 at Lansing, Mich. (McLane Stadium)
Hartland 3 (36-6-1)
|Alexander Vydick ss||4||1||1||0||0||1||2||1||1|
|Jack Slavin cf||3||1||1||0||1||2||1||0||0|
|Hunter DeLanoy 2b||3||1||1||2||0||1||0||1||0|
|John Baker 1b||3||0||2||1||0||0||7||1||0|
|Max Hendricks 3b||1||0||0||0||2||0||0||1||0|
|Cade Martin c||2||0||0||0||0||2||4||0||3|
|Richard Rortle lf||3||0||0||0||0||2||0||0||1|
|Gary Turnbull dh||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|Jake Moyer rf||1||0||0||0||2||0||4||0||0|
|Nathan Lohmeier p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||0|
|Kyle Kletzka p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
Saline 5 (35-6)
|Thomas Miller ss||4||1||2||0||0||0||1||3||1|
|Zachary Owings 2b||2||1||1||0||1||0||2||4||0|
|Sean O'Keefe p||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1|
|Josh Nelson p||1||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Stevie Kise pr||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jake Finkbeiner 3b||3||0||1||0||0||0||1||0||1|
|Richard Hovde rf||2||0||1||2||1||1||1||0||0|
|Cole Daniels 1b||3||1||2||0||0||0||6||0||2|
|Kellan Huang dh||3||1||2||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ryan Foley lf||1||1||1||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Cal Livesay c||0||0||0||0||0||0||8||0||0|
Score by Innings R H E ----------------------------------------- Hartland............ 001 020 0 - 3 5 1 Saline.............. 020 030 X - 5 10 2 -----------------------------------------
|E - H. DeLanoy; T. Miller; R. Foley. DP - HARTLAND 1; SALINE 2. LOB - HARTLAND 7; SALINE 6. 2B - A. Vydick; H. DeLanoy. 3B - R. Foley. HBP - J. Baker; Schwartzenbe. SH - C. Martin; R. Foley. SF - H. DeLanoy; J. Nelson. CS - R. Hovde.|
|Nathan Lohmeier L||5.0||9||5||5||3||4||0||1||0||0||21||25||7||1|
|Josh Nelson W||4.1||2||2||2||3||5||0||0||0||0||14||17||3||3|
|Win - J. Nelson. Loss - N. Lohmeier. Save - None. HBP - by S. O'Keefe (J. Baker); by K. Kletzka (Schwartzenbe). BK - N. Lohmeier. PB - C. Martin 2.
Umpires - HP: Mike Granger 1B: Terry Ray 2B: Steve Metzer 3B: Jeff Knapp