With two losses to St. Elizabeth behind him and a possible state final return ahead, Billy Phillips had all the incentive he needed Saturday night.
He also had the curveball that let him down the first two games.
The St. Mark’s sophomore limited St. Elizabeth to three hits over six innings while striking out 10 and the Spartans got their first win in three tries against the Vikings this year 6-2.
The DIAA Baseball State Tournament semifinal triumph moved St. Mark’s to a familiar place – Tuesday’s final against Caravel at 7 back here at Frawley Stadium.
Four errors leading to four unearned runs doomed No. 1-seeded St. Elizabeth (18-3), which failed to reach its first state baseball final.
Phillips had been the losing pitcher in defeats against St. Elizabeth 4-2 on March 27 and 2-0 April 19.
“When I saw the bracket I was really excited because I knew if we beat the first two teams we’d get St. E’s again because I knew they were going to make it,” said Phillips, the winning pitcher in last year’s state final win over Milford.
“The first two times I played them I didn’t get my curveball to work at all. So I’ve just been in the bullpen like every three days throwing curveball after curveball trying to get it in for a strike first pitch and it worked out.”
No. 13-seeded St. Mark’s (14-7) needed to win its last two regular-season games to make its 30th straight appearance in the 44th annual tournament.
St. Mark’s has won 12 state baseball titles, including seven of the last 10. It’ll be the Spartans’ 18th title game appearance, and they’ve won seven straight.
“We struggled most of the season and we just started hitting the ball the last two weeks,” St. Mark’s coach Matt Smith said.
As for Phillips, “He was lights out first four innings,” Smith added. “He struggled a little bit and they got some runs but he made some big pitches when he had to and got that second and third out in the sixth.”
Down 6-0, the Vikings got on the scoreboard in the sixth. Michael Dunning walked and Adam Szczerba doubled him to third to start the inning. With one out, Dunning came home as Daniel Klusman reached on an error. Trevor Powers then singled home Szczerba to make it 6-2.
A walk loaded the bases before Phillips got out of the inning with a strikeout and flyout.
Earlier, with St. E runners on first and second and one out in the fourth, a 1-3 groundout and strikeout with runners on second and third ended the threat. Phillips was relieved after six, making him eligible to pitch Tuesday if needed, though Matt Frost will get the start.
Three unearned runs got the Spartans going in the second inning. Brock Long singled to open the inning. But a dropped throw on a potential double-play ball and two mishandled grounders in the infield allowed three unearned runs to score.
St. Mark’s added three more runs in the sixth to make it 6-0.
The Vikings have qualified for 17 of the last 27 state baseball tournaments, and 19 overall but never reached the title game. It was their fifth semifinal loss and, coach Tom Beddow said, very disappointing.
“We thought this could be our year,” he said. “That one inning was very uncharacteristic. I don’t know if we were nervous. Heck, we played well all year and our kid [Daniel Galati] pitched well, only giving up five hits. Their kid [Phillips] looked good. He was in command.”