Only two days after shocking No. 11 seed Brandywine 5-4 in a ninth inning comeback, Indian River found it difficult to hold onto its own 2-0 lead against William Penn in the quarterfinals. That rough patch came before the team headed into extra innings, where they eventually lost 3-2 on a walk-off sac-fly in the bottom of the ninth, effectively ending their state championship hopes.
William Penn starting pitcher Rob Bryson pitched a complete game behind an 11-strikeout performance, but senior shortstop Josh Dean gave the Indians the lead on a monster two-run homerun over the left-field fence at Delaware State University in the top of the third.
Dean was intentionally walked in his next two at-bats.
Indians starting pitcher Colin Warner pitched through seven innings, striking out two and allowing only five hits behind stellar defense (four double plays turned). But he allowed William Penn to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth.
“They’re a good team, and sooner or later they were going to start hitting the ball,” Warner said.
Leadoff batter Darin Henry did what good batters do and scored an infield single on a high chopper to Dean at short.
Desperate for a scoring opportunity, Henry motored to second on a ball in the dirt to Steve Alexander who, on the next pitch, moved his teammate to third and a 6-3 force out.
In an attempt to hold the runner, Warner balked, scoring Henry and cutting the lead to 2-1. But Bryson would help his team’s case by scoring a RBI-single to tie the game.
Bryson was called out, completing a 4-6-3 double play on an interference call by the first-base umpire, to end the inning.
Smack came to Warner and asked him if he had enough gas to get them to the eighth — in response to which he nodded.
“I just wanted to hold them off and not give up the lead,” Warner said.
Indian River had base runners in scoring position in both the seventh and eighth innings but it appeared William Penn had snatched the momentum from their downstate counterparts.
Third baseman Luis Barrientos fought off three straight foul balls on 1-2 count to lead off the eighth with a single. The head coach pinch ran Sean Lewis for Barrientos. And four pitches later, catcher Bryan Lynch roped one to left field, giving the Indians two runners on with no outs.
Warner launched a ball deep to centerfield for the out, but Henry rifled the ball to third. Dustin Pettite corralled it on a one-hop to nail a tagging Lewis for the 8-5 double play and ending a serious scoring threat.
Veith grounded out for the final out and, from there, the Indians had a three-up, three-down top of the ninth, which gave William Penn a chance to end it once and for all.
Relief pitcher Nik Kmetz pitched the eighth and gave up two hits before making way for Mike Casale.
Casale issued a leadoff walk to left fielder Mel Robinson and complicated matters by giving up a 2-1 single in the right-centerfield gap to Pettite, giving William Penn an excellent chance to win with no outs.
Catcher Brandon Stagee knew that with runners on the corners, all he had to do was get the ball to the outfield. He knew that pitchers just coming into the game rely on their fastball and, after taking the first pitch low, he zoned in to hit the walk-off sacrifice fly to right field.
“When a pitcher comes into the game for the first time — especially in that type of situation — generally, they throw their fastball. And I was looking for a zone pitch,” Stagee said.
William Penn entered the tournament at 19-1, so there were very few moments this season where they were playing from behind. In fact, they averaged a 9.9 run-per-game average and won 10 of 19 by the mercy rule.
“We’ve had a lot of 10-run-5 inning type of wins this season, but after talking to the Brandywine head coach, we knew that we were playing a very talented baseball team and that we were in for a battle,” William Penn head coach Mel Gardner said. “We’ve lived and died at the top of the order this season, but we made the plays when we had to. And today the bottom of our order came through. Stagee has been struggling at the plate this season but he did what had to be done.”
After falling to Newark 5-4 last year in the first round, Smack was pleased with the progress of his program and is encouraged for next year.
“Last year we lost by this much,” he said, gesturing. “And this year we lost by this much,” he said, repeating the gesture. “But each year we’re getting better. We’re only losing four players. And with so many young players playing in the game, he emphasized, “That’s how you build a program.”
Smack doesn’t regret sending Lewis from second with no outs and he doesn’t regret putting in Casale in a pressure-packed situation.
“Sean has great speed but their centerfielder made an excellent throw. And if he misses that throw, it could’ve been 3-2 us,” Smack said. “And I’ve pitched, so I know what a tough situation Mike was in and he’s upset because he didn’t come through. But he’s young and he’s the future of our team. We’ll have another chance.”