EAST LANSING — When Nick Koan came to the plate in the bottom of the third inning Thursday, there were two outs, the bases were loaded, and his Linden teammates had the same number of runs as Koan had hits in his varsity career: zero.
But Koan dug in against Dearborn Divine Child’s Nick Gurney and lined a shot to center, driving in Corbin Sines and Kevin Bates to give Linden a 2-1 lead — and enough momentum toward a 5-2 semifinal win.
“I just tried to take a good swing at it, not do too much. It looked great so I just stayed solid through it and drove it up the middle,” Koan said. “I had a little confidence but I didn’t know what was going to happen. It’s awesome, It makes you feel ten times better, it really does.”
Although Koan went 1-for-3 Thursday, his hit was the game-changer as the Eagles scored three times in the third and added two runs in the fourth as a steady rain fell over McLane Stadium on the campus of Michigan State.
That Koan even got put in this situation was a fluke. The sophomore first baseman had played junior varsity all spring and was called up for the post-season. He wasn’t slated to play Thursday until the Eagles’ regular number-four hitter, Trey Link, fouled a pitch off of his eye during pregame batting practice. So coach Steve Buerkel played Koan on a hunch.
“I’ve been watching him all years on the JVs and we were just solid,” Buerkel said. “For the last two weeks, after having him up on varsity and seeing how he’s hitting the ball, I just said, ‘Today’s your day.’ I just had a feel for it.”
“He just said, ‘Prepare yourself, you’re going in.’ That was the first time I had gotten in,” Koan said. “Oh yeah, it was awesome. (Before,) I was just watching them and wanting to do it myself.”
One hit, two RBIs and a berth in Saturday morning’s final against Holland Christian later, Koan earned a boatload of credit from his older teammates.
“We get some timely hits here and there but we’ve been playing some great defense and get some solid pitching,” Buerkel said. “You do that, and you’re going to be tough to beat, and we’ve done that all year.”
Lucas Marshall (7-3) threw a complete-game seven-hitter for Linden (29-9-1), which made just one error. The Eagles have their ace, Jack Shore (12-1, 0.31 ERA), available for Saturday’s final.
The Eagles have made only one prior championship game appearance — in 2004, when they lost to Divine Child, 7-0. That was the first of four crowns won by Falcons head coach Tony DeMare (452-200 in 17 seasons), who is retiring to Florida at the completion of the school year.
“We weren’t very fundamentally sound, which is uncharacteristic of us,” DeMare said. “Over the last month or so we had been playing real good defense, we’d been getting good pitching, and in that third inning things kind of imploded. We shot ourselves a little bit, gave them a three-spot, and it was tough to come back.”