|Louis Reyes reacts after reaching on an error by the La Roche third baseman, scoring Tony Hunter II for the walk off victory.
By Steve Frommell, d3photography.com
By Erik Buchinger
GRAND CHUTE, Wis. - Keystone scored four unearned runs in the final three innings to defeat La Roche 5-4 on Monday night at neuroscience group field at Fox Cities Stadium.
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With two outs in the 10th inning, La Roche pitcher Brady Hamer struck out Randy Torres, but the ball got by catcher Joe Professori, and his throw was off the mark to put runners at the corners.
Louis Reyes hit a groundball to third baseman David Lemley, who made the stop, but his throw sailed over the head of Alex Herceg at first base, and Tony Hunter II scored for the walk-off victory for Keystone.
“Obviously that was a tough way for this to end,” La Roche head coach Chase Rowe said. “I think you just saw what the game does to 18-22-year-old young men in a new situation with new pressures that they had to learn to handle and to deal with. It got the best of them there in the end.”
The season has ended for La Roche, who made its first World Series appearance in program history, while Keystone will play Trinity (Texas) tomorrow at 11 a.m. in the finals.
“For the first time in my life, I might be speechless,” Keystone head coach Jamie Shevchik said. “Usually I have a lot of words, but this is just an amazing run.”
Keystone starter Billy Nelson threw eight innings, allowed seven hits, four earned runs, three walks and struck out five batters.
“I thought we had a pretty good game plan going into the game,” Nelson said. “Our pitching coach wants us to get ahead of hitters and put them away as quick as we can.”
Shevchik said he was impressed by Nelson’s overall performance.
“I tip my hat to Billy,” Shevchik said. “I think that was the longest he went in a game this year, and it was just a gritty performance from him. For him to hit and pitch like that, it’s not an easy thing to do, so I give this kid a lot of credit.”
Nelson also batted in the No. 5 spot in the lineup and hit 2-for-5 with a run scored and a RBI.
La Roche’s Ben Herstine opened up the scoring with a solo home run over the left field wall on a 1-2 pitch to lead off the top of the second inning.
Keystone recorded its first hit with one out in the bottom of the fourth with a single from Nelson that scored Chris Triano, who was hit by a pitch to make it a 1-1 game.
“There have been plenty of times this tournament where I came up with runners in scoring position, and I didn’t capitalize,” Nelson said. “I was just trying to get my team on the board and keep us in the game.”
Centerfielder Ian Velez, the No. 8 hitter for La Roche, doubled and scored one batter later on a single by Tyler Craig to give the Redhawks a 2-1 advantage.
With two outs in the top of the eighth, La Roche added two insurance runs to put the Redhawks ahead 4-1. Herstine walked, followed by a two-run blast to right-center field from Lemley.
Shane Emrich came on in relief in the bottom half of the inning for La Roche, and Keystone answered with a two-out rally of its own.
After a pair of groundouts to shortstop, Nelson singled, and the Giants put runners at first and second base on an error to third, which was followed by a wild pitch to advance the runners into scoring position. Catcher Robbie Nardelli singled up the middle to plate two runs and cut the lead to 4-3.
In the bottom of the ninth, a pair of hit batters put Keystone runners at first and second with two outs, and Nate Ross reached on an error to third, which scored Louis Reyes from second to tie the game at 4.
“Once we got a guy on, we kind of changed our mood in the dugout,” Nelson said. “We’ve been doing it all year – we’ve been coming back and staying in the game, and we just did it again.”
Keystone will play Trinity in a best of three series beginning tomorrow morning for the national title.
“It doesn’t matter how big the game is because you still have to play the game between the lines,” Shevchik said. “If we can continue to do that, we’ve just as much of a shot as anybody. We have a little bit of momentum on our side, and we’re on a little bit of a roll.”