Saline beat Skyline 15-3 Wednesday to sweep the season series and complete the SEC Red season with a perfect 15-0 record.
Sean O’Keefe hit a walk-off three-run home run to clinch the mercy-rule win. Kellan Huang hit his second grand slam in as many weeks to open scoring for Saline in the third inning. Paul Kiyabu pitched five innings, giving up three runs, one earned, on seven hits and a walk. He struck out six.
Going undefeated in the SEC Red is no small feat.
“It’s hard to do. There are several good teams in the SEC. To go 15-0 in the SEC is not easy. It tells us something about the depth of our pitching and the consistency of the kids who played throughout the season,” coach Scott Theisen said. “From the beginning to now we’ve played at a high level and we’ve continued to play at a high level.”
With nine regular season games remaining, Theisen says his team has much to improve on.
“People see our win totals. But as coaches, we’re seeing things we need to work on. Things that can cost you in a 2-1 playoff game,” Theisen said.
It was the second time in three seasons that the Hornets swept the SEC Red. The 2015 edition of the Hornets also accomplished the feat.
Saline is now 28-1 – which is likely the best record the Hornets have ever posted at this point in the season. In 2015, on May 16, after sweeping Howell, the Hornets had a 26-2 record. Last year, Saline advanced to the state finals and finished with a 35-7 record.
The wind was blowing hard to centerfield Wednesday, making an inviting target for the heavy hitting Hornets. But Saline struggled to score runs early. Zach Schwartzenberger singled to lead of the first but was picked off trying to steal second. Ted Eppinga and Joe Borowski had singles in the second, but the inning ended when Ethan Collick’s sharply hit ball resulted in a double play.
On the mound, Kiyabu flirted with danger in the first when he gave up a one-out double, but he got the next two batters. He gave up a leadoff single in the second, but catcher Sean O’Keefe gunned him down trying to steal second. In the top of the third, Kiyabu walked the lead off man, but O’Keefe picked him off at first.
Saline broke things open in the third. Sean Millspaugh reached base when his hard chopper ate up the third basemen. Speedy Vinnie Patteri followed with a perfectly placed bunt single. Schwartzenberger walked. Then Kellan Huang stepped up and hit a high flyball over the fence in left for his second grand slam in as many weeks.
“He got a good pitch down low where he likes it, he put a good swing on it and away she went,” Theisen said.
O’Keefe and Eppinga kept the rally going with one-out singles. Borowski followed with a two-run double. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Patteri. Saline led 7-0.
In the fourth, Skyline finally got on the board, but it could have been worse. Skyline led with a double, got a one-out single, and then an RBI single with two outs. Kiyabu ended the rally there.
Saline added to its lead in the bottom of the fourth. After Huang reached on an error and Jake Finkbeiner walked, O’Keefe singled home a run. Eppinga followed with a 2-run triple. He scored on an RBI single by Borowski. With two out, Logan Evans singled home Borowski. Saline led 12-1.
Kiyabu retired the first two batters in the fifth and was one strike away from ending the game when Skyline singled, double and then scored two with an error. With the lead less than 10 runs, the Hornets returned to the plate in the bottom of the fifth. Reagan Miller and Jacob Ohren Hoeft singled.
O’Keefe stepped up to the plate and delivered a line drive over the fence to end the game.
It was O’Keefe’s 10th home run of the season, which ties the Saline baseball record set by Mark Weist.
Saline hosts a doubleheader against Lake Orion Friday.
Most wins in Saline baseball history
- 1999, 36-7-1, reached semifinals
- 2017, 35-7, reached finals
- 2015, 35-3, reached regional final
- 2010, 33-6, reached finals
- 2008, 32-10, reached finals
- 2014, 32-9, reached quarterfinals
- 2012, 30-11, reached quarterfinals
- 2017, 28-1, still in regular season
- 1998, 27-15-1, reached finals