Witnessing a classic in every sense of the word
As a small group of baseball fans yielded the Kirsch-Rooney Stadium stands to a much larger group of adults and teenagers following Ben Franklin’s 1-0 victory over Warren Easton, one of my favorite basketball coaches, Neal McKendall, was about to enter his car as I was exiting mine.
The Easton coach looked at me and said, “Both teams played pretty well. We left a lot of men on base,” he lamented in the wake of his school’s loss.
“It was a good game, but I told (the players), ‘Stick around for the next game if you want to see real baseball.’”
The nightcap game to which he referred was a District 9-5A duel between the reigning Class 5A champion Jesuit against Catholic League rival Archbishop Rummel, two well-developed programs that have crossed bats at least twice a year over the last 47 prep baseball seasons.
The Easton and Franklin players should have lingered around Joe Scheuermann’s park. They would have received honors credits in classic baseball. It was certainly one of the most exciting one-run, extra-inning games I have ever witnessed, reminiscent of the battles between Johnny Altobello’s De La Salle teams against his personal nemesis, Skeeter Theard’s Redemptorist squads of the 1960s.
Imagine a game in which the starting pitchers, Mitch Sewald of Rummel and Jesuit’s Jonathan Hess, fired pitch after pitch to several of the district’s top hitters for a shade more than seven innings. Hess allowed just one hit in the fifth inning to Raiders’ second baseman Spencer Veit, while Sewald pitched a no-hitter. And neither pitcher figured in the decision.
Imagine, Jesuit in dire trouble in the bottom of the sixth inning and getting off the hook by turning in a rare triple play to salvage a scoreless inning.
The finish came in the bottom of the ninth with Zach Thiac finishing the game for Rummel and Andrew Mitchell as the Jesuit reliever.
The stalemate ended in shocking fashion when Rummel pinch-runner Alex Brennan scored from first on a mistimed pickoff attempt with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
As Brennan raced around the bases, following head coach Nick Monica’s frantic gestures, Jesuit’s usually solid defense committed two throwing errors, the last a high volley to catcher Matt Robért under which Brennan slid across home plate for the game’s only run.
Rummel’s head football coach, Jay Roth, described the outcome and its aftermath perfectly: “This is what the Catholic League is all about. You would have thought this was for the state championship when it was just the district opener for both teams.”
In typical anything-goes fashion, Jesuit followed that loss with a 3-2 win over Brother Martin, and Rummel lost to one of Grace King’s finest teams ever, 7-6.
The district standings entering April 1 were Jesuit, Brother Martin and King all at 2-1 and Rummel at 1-1.