With the bases loaded in the top of the fifth inning Saturday, Saline centerfielder Zach Schwartzenberger turned on a pitch, lifting it toward rightfield. The ball carried over the wall but was just foul, eliciting gasps of disappointment from the crowd.
Schwartzenberger settled back in the box and waited for the next offering from Temperance Bedford pitcher David Jeffers.
On the ensuing pitch, the Hornet took another huge cut. This time, though, the ball stayed fair, and dropped over the rightfield wall for a grand slam which broke a 4-4 tie and propelled host Saline (ranked No. 2 in Division 1) to a 13-7 win over Temperance Bedford.
With the victory, the Hornets moved on to the state quarterfinals Tuesday. They will face Portage Northern at 4 p.m. at Michigan’s Ray Fisher Stadium.
Similar to its 4-3 win over Allen Park in the semifinals earlier Saturday, Saline had to come back from an early deficit.
“This team is starting to learn how to battle through some difficult situations,” Saline coach Scott Theisen said. “That’s something we didn’t do a good job of during the year, and I’m just so proud to see them get into tough situations in both games and to never give in and keep clawing. To be fortunate enough to be on the winning end in both games is a great feeling.”
The Hornets struck first in the top of the opening frame off a two-out RBI single from third baseman Jacob Finkbeiner.
But Bedford tied things right back up in the bottom of the inning when Saline pitcher Richard Hovde surrendered two consecutive doubles before getting lifted in favor of Josh Nelson, who induced a double play to end the inning.
In the bottom of the second, Bedford tallied another two runs off two doubles and an infield single. Then, in the following frame, the Kicking Mules stretched their lead to three when centerfielder Joey Wiemer raced home off a wild pitch that ended Nelson’s day.
The Hornets, though, stayed patient at the plate, and scored three runs to tie things up at four apiece in the fourth inning.
After Schwartzenberger’s grand slam, Bedford countered with a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning.
But though Saline’s pitchers gave up a total of seven runs, the offense stayed hot, tacking on five more insurance runs in top of the sixth, and the bullpen kept the Kicking Mules quiet over the final two innings to emerge with the victory.
“Nothing changes in terms of our preparation,” Theisen said. “We’ve just got to make sure we continue to battle if we get in tight spots and swing the bats like we’ve been (doing). Whoever goes on the mound, I think we’ve got a chance because of the way they’re battling.”
Saline 4, Allen Park 3: With Saline down to its final out and losing, 3-2, to Allen Park, outfielder Cole Daniels laced a double. Michael Schuby then singled to tie the game for the Hornets, and pinch-hitter Kellen Huang followed with another single to give his team its first and only lead of the game. Allen Park was in control for most of the game, taking an early 3-0 lead off a couple of Saline mistakes. Allen Park threatened once in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases with only one out. Saline responded by bringing in pitcher Paul Kiyabu, who struck out a Jaguar before inducing a game-ending flyout.
Baseball and softball
Semifinals and finals: Thursday-Saturday, Michigan State.
Finals: Friday-Saturday, Michigan State.