There's only one trophy the Saline Hornets want. And it's not the regional championship trophy the team refused to touch after defeating Taylor Kennedy, 3-0, in final Saturday at Saline High School.
“That's not the trophy we came to win,” said Michael Hendrickson, who pitched a one-hitter in the regional final and earned the save in the semifinal Saturday.
In 2012, sophomore Michael Hendrickson played for the Saline Hornets baseball team that lost 4-2 in the state semifinal to Hudsonville, who won the championship. With a win Tuesday, Saline makes a return trip to Battle Creek.
“It would mean the world to get back there. That's all we've been thinking about since we lost that game,” Hendrikson said. “And we want to win it this time. We don't want to lose in the finals or semifinals.”
In Hendrickson and Josh Smith, the Saline Hornets may have the best 1-2 punch of any pitching staff in Michigan High School baseball. Saturday, the Hornets needed every ounce of their skill and talent, as Saline defeated Lincoln Park, 1-0, and then Taylor Kennedy, 3-0, to win the MHSAA Division 1 Regional tournament at Saline High School. Saline takes on Battle Creek Lakeview at 6 p.m., Tuesday, at the University of Michigan.
Hendrickson, Smith and reliever Brett Nearing gave up a grand total of two hits in 14 innings.
Lincoln Park gave the Hornets all they could handle in the semifinal. Pitcher Alexis Santos kept the Hornets off balance most of the game. As good as Santos was, Smith was even better, despite a rocky start. Smith walked the first three batters he faced to load the bases. He pitched out of the jam by striking out the next three hitters.
“I was just amped up and trying to get more on my fastball than necessary. After those pitches I just took a deep breath and realized I needed to throw strikes like I've done all year,” Smith said.
He finished the game with 11 strikeouts in five innings. He walked six, hit one batter and gave up one hit.
After pitching out of the first inning jam, Smith stayed out of trouble until the bottom of the fifth, when Nate Harsbarger broke up the no hitter with a leadoff single. After a sacrifice and a walk, Lincoln Park had runners on the corners with one out. Smith fanned Santos. Then Lincoln Park attempted a squeeze, but the pitch was high and catcher Trent Theisen tagged out the runner heading for home.
The threat seemed to spring the Hornet offense to life. Leading off, Joey Sweigart reached on a bunt single. With one out, Theisen singled to right. The Hornet rally appeared over when Sweigart was thrown out sliding into third. That's when Smith stepped up to bat.
“It was a 1-and-2 fastball, up and in. I just got in front of it. I got jammed a little bit, but I got enough of it to hit far,” Smith said, describing his double to the left-center gap that scored the game's only run.
Lincoln wouldn't away quietly. In the sixth, Brett Nearing relieved Smith. The first hitter walked, but Theisen threw him out trying to steal second. The next batter reached on an error. The next hitter grounded to Michael Barnett at third. He threw to John Malbone at second for one, and Malbone threw to Ryan Blake Jones at first for the inning-ending double play.
In the bottom of the seventh, Hendrickson relieved Nearing after he beaned the lead-off hitter. Hendrickson struck out the next hitter and then Theisen picked off the runner trying to steal second. Hendrickson ended the game by striking out Joel Santos.
Coach Scott Theisen credited Smith for the way he bounced back from a tough start.
“The biggest thing about the way he pitched was the way he battled. He didn't have great command early, especially early. Bases loaded and hadn't thrown a strike. But he got out of it. He made big pitches when he had to,” Theisen said. “He didn't crack. Mentally, he was strong and that was big.”
In the final, Saline faced Taylor Kennedy.
Hendrickson walked four and struck out 10. He was pitching a no hitter until Cody Serafin led off the seventh with an infield single. It was the only hit he gave up.
In the bottom of the first, Saline scored three runs. Sweigart singled up the middle. Thomas Miller was hit by a pitch. Theisen bunted everyone over. A wild pitch brought in Saline's first run.
Then Hendrickson and Ryan Blake Jones each stroked RBI singles.
Taylor Kennedy pitcher Tyler Butzin settled down, pitched out of a couple jams and held the Hornets off the scoreboard, but with the way Hendrickson was throwing, Saline always appeared completely in control with their three-run lead.
“The three in the first was big, because Hendrickson just said, 'alright, I'm going to shut the door the rest of the way,' and he did,” Theisen said.