Ryan Steinhauer pitched a gem and Alex Morrison and Aidan Corrigan each hit two-run home runs as Saline defeated Canton, 4-1, in the regional semifinal at Novi High School Wednesday.
In a rematch of last year’s regional final, Saline will face Woodhaven at 12:30 p.m., Saturday, at Kalamazoo College. The winner advances to the super regional against Grand Ledge or Portage Northern at 3:30 p.m.
Steinhauer, the hard-throwing senior lefty, pitched perhaps the best game of his career. In seven innings, he allowed one run on three hits and three walks while striking out 10. At one point, he retired 10 straight batters -- six of them with strikeouts.
“He was outstanding. He had great energy. He was able to command three pitches. He kept the ball down,” Saline coach Al Zeiher said. “When your sitting on a curve, he throws you a fast ball. When you’re sitting on something straight, he throws you a curve. There’s no break (for a hitter).”
Saline jumped to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Noah Nelson started things for Saline with a lead-off double to center. Two batters later, Alex Morrison stepped to the plate and gave Saline a 2-0 lead with a home run to left.
“Noah hit that double to the wall. It was a great way to start the game - we got a lot of energy from that. And then in my at bat, the pitcher started with two balls and came back with two hard fastballs. I swung and missed on both of them. Then I got a fastball inside and got the hips and hands through and put it over the wall in left,” Morrison said. “I think (the home run) gave us a great energy boost and for Stein, he used it and just pitched his butt off.”
For a team that has struggled to score runs at times -- especially in early innings lately -- the early lead was important. Zeiher said the lead allowed the Hornets to relax and play their game.
“Now we’ve got a little bit of a cushion and we don’t have to press at the plate. We can be free and easy at the plate.”
In the third, Canton threatened to score. Steinhauer walked the lead off man and then, after a strikeout, walked the next man. But Cam Daniels helped extinguish the threat when he caught the runner leading too far off second. He threw to Nelson at second base, catching the runner between bases. Nelson tossed to Logan Evans, who chased the runner back to second and tagged him out. Two pitches later, Steinhauer struck out the batter to end the inning.
It was at this point that Steinhauer hit his groove. Canton went 0-for-9 with five strikeouts and no baserunners in the fourth, fifth and sixth.
“My fastball is pretty hard and it has a little tail. These guys had four lefties in the lineup and that was advantageous for me because I could run it in on their hands and they couldn’t get the barrel on it,” Steinhauer said. “I have a change up that blends with it and was a good swing-and-miss pitch for the righties. My curveball today was good against the lefties, especially sweeping across. They were swinging right over it.”
Saline carried its 2-0 lead until the bottom of the sixth. With one out, Logan Evans was hit by a pitch. Kolton Malinczak came in as a pinch runner.
Corrigan homered with a line drive to centerfield.
In his previous at bat, Corrigan was trying to put something back up the middle. He succeeded with a line drive single to center. He stuck with the “up the middle” approach.
“I had taken a pitch before that and I was a little mad at myself because I should have swung. I got the same pitch and I was able to put a good swing on it. I was trying to stay up the middle and the ball went. It was great,” Corrigan said.
That gave Saline a 4-0 lead. The two extra runs were nice insurance for Steinhauer, who allowed a triple to lead off the seventh.
“That insurance really helped. I knew we had it in the bag. I didn’t really care (about the lead off triple). He was their best hitter and I made a little mistake. I was like, ‘So be it. They’ve still got to get three more.’ And I knew they weren’t going to,” Steinhauer said.
The Hornets are four wins into the postseason. It’ll take eight to reach the ultimate goal - a state championship. Senior Logan Evans and junior Alex Morrison are the only roster players remaining from the 2017 state championship squad. Players like Corrigan watched from the junior varsity ranks.
“As Saline baseball kids, we’ve been working for this since we were kids. You dream about making a run. When you see guys make the run like they did two years ago, I mean, you dream about being in that same spot,” Corrigan said. “So right now, our dream is alive, and we’re still going.”
On Wednesday night, they were just happy to live to play another game.
“It feels great. It’s a credit to those guys. It’s a whole team effort - everybody - not just the guys out there (on the field). Our bench gave us great energy all day and I think all those guys are ready to go if we need them,” Zeiher said.