Baseball: One strike away from reaching state final, Hebron falls on ninth-inning rally
By Steve Lowe Post Tribune correspondent June 9, 2012 9:14PM
Northfield celebrates around Hebron's losing pitcher Damon Wallace after their nine inning 5-4 victory over Hebron in the IHSAA Semi State Baseball action Saturday June 9, 2012 in South Bend, Ind. | Joe Raymond ~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 11, 2012 10:34AM
SOUTH BEND — In a postseason of firsts, Hebron’s baseball team was one strike away from another one.
First sectional championship in 35 years. First regional title in school history. Almost a first trip to the state championship game.
Almost, but not quite.
Top-ranked Northfield ended Hebron’s magical run through the playoffs with a dramatic two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth Saturday at South Bend’s Coveleski Stadium. The Norsemen escaped with a 5-4 victory, the winning run coming in on a fielding error by Hawks first baseman Cody Hayes.
“This was a state championship type game,” Hebron coach John Steinhilber said. “I don’t think we’re a loser, we just don’t get to play next week.”
With two out and a runner on second, Hebron pitcher Damon Wallace got two strikes on Northfield’s Adam Roser. Wallace’s next two pitches were close enough to draw half the Hebron bench out of the dugout to begin celebrating, only to be sent back. Both were called balls and Roser eventually walked.
“I thought we were squeezed, twice,” Steinhilber said. “Should have been strike three.”
The next batter, Tanner Chamberlin, slapped a single to center field to tie the game at 4. Another walk to Andy Roser loaded the bases and Ryan Keaffaber ended it with a bouncer to first that bounced up from the Field Turf playing surface, and off of Hayes’ chest.
“We don’t play on this turf,” Steinhilber said. “That’s an in-between hop off a foreign surface. That’s not it, though. We need to get more runs.”
Hebron took the lead in the top of the ninth on a two-out single by John Moneta. The Hawks (20-9) hadn’t done much with Northfield starter Keaffaber since plating three runs in the third inning. After a one-out single in the fourth, Keaffaber set down the next 15 Hawks hitters until their rally in the ninth.
Northfield also struggled with Hayes, who started for Hebron, over the same period, collecting just one hit after the fourth inning until their own half of the ninth.
“We won the first game of the sectional in the bottom of the seventh, and the first game of the regional in the bottom of the seventh,” Chamberlin said. “Coming up there in the ninth, we were still confident and we knew anywhere we were in the lineup, we could get it done.”
Keaffaber improved to 15-0 on the season. Hayes threw more than 140 pitches in 71/3 innings and struck out 13 to go with seven walks. Four of Northfield’s five runs were unearned, thanks to four Hebron errors.
Moneta finished with two hits and Kyle Hernandez, the Hawks’ all-time hits leader, drove in two with a double in the third.
“There’s no failures in the red today,” Steinhilber said. “We left it all on the field.”