Alex Balderas figured the moment was getting to serious with Mason clinging to a narrow lead over Portland.
So the senior catcher strolled to the mound, told pitcher Harrison Kinney to give him the biggest smile he had and then walked away.
“He was getting to serious so I had to lighten his day a little bit,” Balderas said. “My mentality at that point was we can not give this up. We worked way too hard for this so I needed to go cheer him up and make him think that we got this.”
The method worked as Mason held on for a 3-2 victory over the Raiders in a Diamond Classic quarterfinal at Kircher-Municipal Park on Wednesday night.
Portland had two runners on when Kinney got a strikeout looking to end the game and help Mason advance to face either Lansing Catholic or Grand Ledge in the Diamond Classic semifinals next month.
Wednesday’s victory was the first for the Bulldogs since being selected for the Classic last week. Mason had lost five straight and had a team meeting Tuesday to clear the air.
“We talked about those five losses won’t mean anything if you go out and win the Diamond Classic and win the first district in the school’s history,” second-year Mason coach Scott Berman said. “Those goals are still within reach, so we said let’s not get down on what we did, let’s focus on what we’re going to do.”
Wednesday’s performance was a step in the right direction for the Bulldogs, who scored twice in the second inning to take the lead and added a run in the sixth when a pitch got past Portland catcher Noah Hengesbach.
“This means a lot,” Kinney said. “I know our boys really wanted it and it’s been awhile since our school has been here. It means a lot that we’re here. I think our community is proud of us and it’s exciting”
Austin Allison and Haydin Brandt each drove in runs for Portland. Brandt pulled the Raiders within one with his two-out RBI hit in the seventh.
But Kinney ended the late threat by striking out Allison – Portland’s cleanup hitter.
“The moment we struck him out – I have no words for that,” Balderas said. “It was absolutely, ridiculously amazing.
“Just to know that Mason has not been this far in the Diamond Classic in a long time, that just makes it feel so much more special.”