Saline rallies for spot in Division 1 baseball final
East Lansing — Saline has battled back throughout the postseason, so it should come to no surprise it earned another comeback win in its Division 1 state semifinal Thursday evening, defeating defending champion Hartland, 5-3.
Richard Hovde’s two-run single in the bottom of the fifth highlighted a three-run rally to turn a 3-2 deficit into a two-run cushion.
Saline (35-6), which lost three straight state title games from 2008-10, will face Warren DeLaSalle in Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. championship game.
Senior right-hander Josh Nelson has made a habit of coming in to put out fires for Saline during its postseason run. He replaced junior starter Sean O’Keefe, who was struggling with his control in the second and third innings.
Nelson worked the final 4 1/3 innings, giving up two runs on two hits and three walks while striking out five to improve to 11-0.
“It’s quite stressful coming in there, this is the third time this tournament that I’ve come in with the bases loaded,” said Nelson, who will pitch at Wayne State. “I’m kind of used to it, but it’s always stressful. I’m glad I had the opportunity to help my team win a state semifinal to go to the state championship game.
“My slider was on today, it was good on almost every count. I missed a couple of times, but it was there when I needed it to be. I’ve pitched a lot of innings this year, done my job for my team and I’m just trying to help them get my coach (Scott Theisen) a state title.”
Theisen has been close to winning state championships before during his 24-year career at Saline, but this could be his best chance at bringing home the trophy.
O’Keefe pitched his way out of trouble in the second after hitting the leadoff hitter, then walking the next batter and having them reach second and third on a sacrifice bunt. O’Keefe got a strikeout, then grounded out to get out of the jam.
Saline took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second when Cole Daniels and Kellan Huang singled and Ryan Foley followed with a triple after Hartland’s left fielder misplayed the ball.
Nelson entered the game in the third after Hartland (36-6-1) had scored a run and then loaded the bases, striking out the first batter he faced to end the threat.
Nelson helped his own cause with a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the fifth to pull Saline even at 3. Then, Jake Finkbeiner followed with a grounder off the leg of Hartland left-hander Nate Lohmeier to load the bases and Hovde followed with his two-run single.
“I saw a fastball up and got a good swing on it,” Hovde said. “You want to be aggressive with guys in scoring position and I was looking for fastballs up there because I was up in the count (3-and-0, then 3-and-1).
“We had seen him (Lohmeier, in a newspaper quote) say that when he’s on he won’t lose, that nobody could beat him, and he was on today and we did.”
Lohmeier (9-1), who will pitch next year at Bowling Green, suffered his first loss of the season, giving up five runs, all earned, on nine hits and three walks while striking out four. He missed the state finals last year after suffering a knee injury in a collision at first base in the regionals.