Hamburg pitcher Ryan Smith was spared a walk-off loss by a matter of inches when a ball smoked by Northeastern's Kody Reeser hit the top of the wall for a two-run double instead of a three-run homer.
Smith was saddled with a blown save but ultimately won the game in relief when Hamburg scored three times in the top of the ninth inning for a wild 6-3 win in the opening round of the District 3 Class AAA playoffs at Northeastern.
“Mentally, it’s probably the hardest thing to do in baseball,” Smith said of his save attempt. “The whole team did a good job of gathering themselves and keeping cool.”
The third-seeded Bobcats saw their season come to an end despite rallying twice after being a strike away from losing in the seventh and eighth innings. A three-run top of the ninth fueled by a patient approach at the plate was the difference for 14th-seeded Hamburg to pull off the upset. Northeastern finishes the year 16-6 while Hamburg improves to 13-8.
“We’ve had a very unfortunate string of bad hops, bad luck all year,” Hamburg coach Nick Evangelista said. “We’re a much better ball club than our record.”
Hamburg was one batter away from winning the game when Smith came on in relief for starter Nicholas Kuhn, who was carrying a shutout. Reeser worked the count full before launching a double to left-center. After Hamburg scored a run in the top of the eighth, Northeastern extended the game on their final strike once again after second baseman Hayden Siefert hit a weak grounder to second that sneaked by Hamburg’s Logan Adams to score Northeastern left fielder Mason Kling.
But Hamburg responded in the ninth against Brady Dolan, who came in to relieve Reeser after he threw over 120 pitches. Dolan, a finesse lefty, was undone by an infield hit, walk, hit-by-pitch and a two-run base hit by Kuhn. Hamburg added an insurance run on a RBI groundout by Michael Procak.
Northeastern managed to get the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, but couldn’t manage a third in-game comeback.
“Bottom of the seventh inning, two strikes, two outs that’s what players live for,” Dolan said. “Just gotta give it to our seniors. Kody pitched well enough to win for sure.”
Reeser and Kuhn each carried shutouts into the sixth inning, but neither was able to finish the game after both teams changed their approach at the plate in the late innings.
“We tried to work the count more later in the game instead of just swing at the first pitch, and it seemed to work,” Kuhn said.
The quick turnaround after a nine inning game will test Hamburg’s pitching depth, as Smith and Kuhn are their top two pitchers.
“I’m confident in one-through-five of our pitching staff,” Evangelista said. “Obviously, our one and two guys won’t be at the top of their game but we might be able to get an inning or two together and we’ll see what we can do.”
Being a 14 seed doesn’t matter to Hamburg, who will face sixth-seeded Daniel Boone on Thursday.
“I’m not sure how accurate the power-rating system is,” Evangelista said. “Our motto as a program is ‘get in’ because anything can happen. You have to be better for that one day, that one inning, that one pitch, one out.”