Taking it one game at a time, the Saline varsity baseball team moved two steps closer to its ultimate goal Saturday at Dearborn Edsel Ford.
Saline defeated Allen Park, 5-0, in the regional semifinal, and beat Bedford, 9-4, in the regional championship game.
Saline’s second straight regional championship sends the Hornets to the MHSAA Division 1 quarterfinal against Holt, which is tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m., Tuesday at Chelsea High School. But because Chelsea has qualified for the Division 2 quarter final and athletics department staff wish to watch the game, the location may change.
Since the start of the season, this team has been on a mission to get one win further than last year’s team, which lost in the state championship game. They’re getting very close.
Senior Sean O’Keefe said the Hornets are talking it one game at a time.
“Last year burned a little bit. So we're all pretty determined and we think about it a lot. We're not going to think too far ahead. We're going to take it one game at a time and hope for the best,” O’Keefe said.
While the Hornets haven’t yet reached their goal, they understand Saturday’s victories were important milestones.
“The regional title was probably our hardest game last year. Just to get this one out of the way feels good but we've got a lot of work to do,” said senior Ryan Foley.
Senior Ted Eppinga was the star of the regional championship game. Eppinga led off the fourth inning with a home run and then hit a two-run shot over the leftfield fence in the sixth inning.
“I felt really good. The first game I didn't have the greatest at bats. So I wanted to come out an pretty much prove myself,” Eppinga said, admitting it felt awesome to hit two homeruns in the regional championship game. “It feels amazing. It's a feeling like no other.”
Pitcher Danny Weidmayer started for the first time in a couple of weeks and earned the win.
He gave up four runs on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out three and walked none. Weidmayer held Bedford off the board while Saline’s hitters were building a substantial lead on Bedford hurdler Joey Weimer, who gave the Hornets about all they could handle in an SEC tilt earlier this season.
Saline hitters went to work right away. In the first inning, lead-off hitter Ryan Foley drilled a line drive to the fence in left for a double. Kellan Huang reached on an infield single, but Foley was stuck at second. Foley then stole third and was all smiles as he sprinted home when the catcher’s throw went into leftfield.
“We know Joey has an unbelievable fast ball that gets into the lower 90s. I knew I was probably going to get a fastball. I was able to square it up pretty good and he provided most of the power,” Foley said of his double. “I'm a guy to show emotion. In a regional final you've got to be amped up. I thought I got the team going. It was just fun. We knew to get out to an early lead would be a key thing because last time they kind of stuck around.”
After Jake Finkbeiner walked, O’Keefe drove Huang home with a sacrifice fly. Saline led 2-0.
Weidmayer gave up a lead-off single in the first but struck the next batter out. He escaped the inning unharmed when shortstop Jake Finkbeiner and second basemen Kellan Huang turned the 6-4-3 double play.
In the bottom of the inning, Saline scored two more runs. Ethan Collick walked. With two out, Sean Millspaugh doubled off the fence in center, scoring Collick. Millspaugh took third on a wild pitch and then scored on Foley’s bunt single.
Weidmayer retired the side again in the third.
O’Keefe led off the third with a line drive off the wall in center. Courtesy runner Alex Morrison took third on Zach Schwartzenberger’s ground out. Morrison scored on Collick’s sacrifice fly to left.
Bedford’s hitters came around in the fourth. David Jeffers led off with a double down the left-field line. He scored on a single by Jake Dunnett. Weidmayer got the next two hitters out on ground balls.
Eppinga led off the bottom of the fourth by hitting the first pitch over the left-field fence.
“I was looking fastball and I got one and I was right on it. Thank goodness it was a little windy. That helped,” Eppinga said.
Millspaugh reached base on a dropped third strike. Foley bunted him over to second. Millspaugh took third on a wild pitch and then scored on Huang’s sacrifice fly to centerfield.
Saline led 7-1.
Weidmayer allowed a couple of singles in the top of the fifth but Bedford couldn’t close the gap.
In the sixth, Bedford loaded the bases on three singles. Ben Russ cleared the bases with a double that bounced to the wall in centerfield. Paul Kiyabu relieved Weidmayer. He walked one but didn’t let allow Russ to score.
Up 7-4, Saline got some helpful insurance in the bottom of the sixth. Lead-off batter Collick singled with a hard groundball that ate up the second basemen. That brought up Eppinga, who hit a second home run further than the first.
“I got a hanging curveball. I knew if I swung hard it was going a ways,” Eppinga said.
Saline led 9-4.
Huang relieved Kiyabu in the seventh. He got the first two batters on fly balls to left and then allowed a long single to right. But he struck out Joey Oehlers to end the game.
In the semifinal, Cole Daniels pitched a two-hit shutout. He struck out 12 and walked two.
Saline got on the board in the bottom of the second. With one out, Cole Daniels walked. Morrison entered as a courtesy runner. Schwartzenberger singled and Morrison scored on a throwing error.
In the third, Daniels hit the first batter and walked the second. The next hitter tapped one back to Daniels, who threw out the runner at third. The next batter lines out to Eppinga at first. Daniels struck out the next hitter to end the threat.
Saline added a run in the third. Foley bunted for a one-out single. He stole second and went to third on a single by Huang. Finkbeiner scored Foley with a groundball to center. Saline led 2-0.
On the mound, Daniels cruised through the next two innings. He set eight straight batters down before walking a batter in the top of the sixth.
In the bottom of the sixth, Saline’s hitters gave Daniels some insurance. Finkbeiner and O’Keefe hit singles to start the inning. Daniels scored Finkbeiner when he grounded into a double play.
Schwartzenberger kept the inning going with a walk. Collick followed with a home run over the fence in rightfield.
“I knew he was going to throw me a first-pitch fastball. I saw it coming. I swung and crushed it,” Collick said. “It felt amazing. First of the season so it was pretty big.”
Saline led 5-0.
Daniels set Allen Park down 1-2-3 in the seventh.