EAST LANSING – Saline coach Scott Theisen knew the question was coming … several times.
Trailing by a run with one out in the top of the seventh, Saline had runners on first and third with Sean O’Keefe at the plate.
In O’Keefe’s previous plate appearance, he hit the ball so far over the leftfield wall it may have landed on the state capital.
But on the first pitch, the Saline runner on first stole second — and Warren De La Salle coach Matt Cook probably wanted to send a thank you note to the Saline dugout before he then intentionally walked O’Keefe.
Theisen didn’t really want to take the bat out of O’Keefe’s hands, but Jake Finkbeiner, who followed O’Keefe was hitting over .400 this season.
“With O’Keefe up, he’s a strong double play candidate because of his speed or lack thereof,” Theisen said. “So we didn’t know if they were going to make a play on our guy and if they did we were going to attempt to double steal, try to come home with our runner from third.”
De La Salle catcher Mac Graybill wasn’t silly enough to attempt a throw on the steal, so Finkbeiner stepped to the place and promptly hit into a season-ending double play.
It was the fifth time Theisen has advanced to the state championship game, and it was the fifth time he has gone home with the runner-up trophy. Forget that Theisen did a miraculous job getting this team to the finals, at some point he wants to win the darn thing.
“Baseball,” Theisen said, “is a cruel game sometimes.”
This is only Cook’s sixth season as head coach, and in his first appearance Saturday he was able to take the Division 1 state championship with the 7-6 victory.
“The fact that they’re here all the time shows what a good coach he is,” Cook said of Theisen, who has won 659 games. “It’s humbling, that’s for sure. There’s a lot of coaches who have coached for a long time and have never been able to take the first place trophy home.”
That trophy will be in the De La Salle trophy case Monday in no small part due to the play of three precocious sophomores.
Easton Sikorski started on the mound for the Pilots and battled Saline for six innings. He gave up six hits and six runs (five earned) and did his best for as long as he could.
The key hit was delivered by first baseman Bryce Bush, who knocked in the tying and game-winning runs with a single in the bottom of the sixth.
With Easton out of gas, Nino Puckett, who won Thursday’s semifinal game, came on to earn the save by pitching the seventh inning.
About the only De La Salle player not pleased with the decision to walk O’Keefe was the ever-confident Puckett.
“I wanted to pitch to him,” he said. “I wanted to show him my best stuff.”
O’Keefe might have sent Puckett’s best stuff onto Tom Izzo’s front lawn, but hey, Puckett is only a sophomore.
“We’ve got a great class,” Sikorski said. “We work hard, we’ve got a bunch of talent. We’re going to be a threat the next couple of years.”
Bush, who also added another single, a walk and was hit by a pitch, pointed out that age is only just a number.
“Anybody can do it, no matter what age,” he said. “We have probably one of the best sophomore classes in the state.
“I’m pretty sure later we’ll be here again sometime.”
That could very well be. And if the Pilots do get back to the state finals, don’t be surprised if the opponent isn’t Theisen’s Saline team.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1