MIDLAND, MI – Oh, that sound.
One deafening beat of the bat – one that will resonate for a long time as the winning bell for John Glenn’s baseball team and as the death bell for Essexville Garber’s baseball season – brought the rival’s epic clash across the river to a thunderous ending.
Nathan Ball inserted a double race to the fence, sending Brody Krzysiak and Brady Rogers into the base race to instantly turn a one-run lag into a one-run triumph, giving 19th-ranked John Glenn a stunning 3-2 win over No. 8 Garber in the Division 2 championship game.
“There’s no better feeling,” Ball said after teammates chased him down the base tracks in ecstatic celebration. “I went upstairs saying‘ I’m not letting us go home yet. What else am I going to do next week? We have to keep playing. ‘
“You have to believe – and we’ve believed all day.”
After two wins in passing in situations that must be won – Glenn also defeated Shepherd 4-3 in a nail game in nine innings in the semi-finals – the Bobcats (28-10-1) advance to the regional semi-finals to face Clare in 4:30 pm on Wednesday in Gladwin.
Once a program that looked like a snake at the time of the tournament – with one county title in its first 37 attempts – Glenn has now won 12 championships in its last 14 seasons.
But this was supposed to be Garber’s year.
A team with seniors that includes many players who led the Essexville-Hampton Little League to one victory in the Little League World Series in 2016, the Dukes looked ready for a long series of tournaments. They won Bay County and Tri-Valley East titles – both at Glenn’s expense – and a sports ace who can’t miss out at University of Michigan signatory Tommy Szczepanski.
Szczepanski did his part of the job, knocking out 5th place Bullock Creek 3-1 with four strokes and 14 strokes. But Garber (31-6) could not quite finish the task against Glenn.
Glenn faced a tough prospect of trying to refocus after his nine-inning marathon with Shepherd in the semifinals. But the emotionally charged game with Garber kept everything in full-go mode.
“It’s definitely not easy, but you have to go back and compete against a great team like Garber after playing a game like that,” Ball said. “You have to find a way to win, and that’s what John Glenn is.
“You have to break it down and throw it away, and we are like that.”
Fierce rivals behaved in an epic way, exchanging thorns, exchanging stabs and sending a showdown down the wire.
Garber got a single advantage from Blaise Millar and a single from Jack Day for the current 1-0 advantage in the first inning. But Glenn’s starter, Tanner Sonntag, came out of the base-laden situation to complete the inning and avoid disaster. Garber left seven runners in the game, and two were thrown to the board.
Glenn tied at the bottom of the first on Carter Hebert’s RBI single with two outs. But Garber fought back in the second inning when Millar ran home due to a 2-1 lead.
And here Sonntag and Garber starter Max Fellows kept the score – until the final blow of the bat.
Both starters gave up in the sixth, with Glenn going to first-team winner Krzysiak and Garber going to Colin Sackrider, who defended one ball in the semifinals. Garber was three cars away from the title when everything changed at the bottom of the seventh.
Krzysiak and Rogers made their way to the base by walking and an elevated Ball, a 6-foot, 4-foot left-handed hitting hard. He turned the fast ball with revenge, sending it to rise to the fence with a loud clang.
At that moment, the match was over, and not with the outcome that seemed so probable a few moments earlier.
“Nathan Ball is tied to it,” said Glenn coach Jeff Hartt, who nearly escaped as he waved emphatically to his runners home. “We had real guys at base because we could both really run, but he hit a mile.
“It simply came to our notice then. These guys fought all day, they fought all year. They just never give up, and that was pretty evident in both of today’s games. “
The opposite effect was felt in the Garber dugout, because the season that promised a lot and a lot of achievements suddenly stopped.
“That top of their lineup, you want to avoid it as much as you can,” Garber coach Jon Jeczmionka said. “That part of the lineup came in the end in a 2-1 game and made us pay.
“This was not a shock – Glenn is a great team – but I know my guys were broken. We have done some good things this year. I would like to play next week, but we didn’t. “
The match continues for Glenn, a team with only one senior and three freshmen in the starting lineup. But it is a team that knows how to fight, as it showed in the semi-final victory over Shepherd.
Glenn trailed 3-1 until he equalized in the sixth, then stood at the bottom of the ninth. Hebert, the only senior in the lineup, scored the winning goal as the Bobcats celebrated their first of two wins in a passing day.
Garber took advantage of the third inning of three series in his 3-1 win over host Bullock Creek. Day had an RBI single, and the Szczepanski duo RBI in the key inning.
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