By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
Of all the ways there are to win a baseball game, this is certainly not one of them.
It was a muted celebration for the Calvary Cavaliers when they scored what proved to be the winning run in a 10-9 win over Covenant Christian Thursday night at Trademark Park in the Division IV semifinals.
For the first two hours, the Cavaliers played as well as they could play. For the next hour, they didn’t, which is why a 9-0 lead had turned into a 9-9 game entering the bottom of the sixth inning.
The Cavs’ Kyzer Smith singled on the first pitch and Cade Bedgood followed with his third hit to center field, setting up runners on first and third with nobody out. Everybody knew what was coming next – runners would be in motion. But what happened next is something no one saw coming.
When the runner took off for second base on the first pitch, Covenant catcher John Richard and pitcher Hayden Scott weren’t on the same page. Richard fired the ball to Scott, but Scott was expecting the ball to go through to second base. The throw hit him squarely in the head so hard that it landed near the backstop.
As Scott lay motionless on the field, Smith came home with the go-ahead run with absolutely no one celebrating.
“It’s tough to see,” said Calvary coach Jason Legg. “It just looked like a miscommunication. That’s unfortunate for them.”
After a long delay, Scott was able to walk off the field but did not return.
Lost in that is what had happened only a few minutes earlier in almost the exact spot on the field in the top of the sixth.
After a series of Lions base runners had reached without getting a hit (dropped third strike, hit by pitch, error, two walks), Zac Dupre’s double to deep left field scored three runs and tied the game. Half the crowd was stunned; half was ecstatic. This game had been all but over just a few minutes earlier.
With Dupre now on second representing the go-ahead run, Brennan Champagne hit a baseball so hard back through the middle that “line drive” doesn’t do it justice. Calvary relief pitcher Cody Van Noppen just happened to have his glove in the exact spot where Champagne’s ball was hit as it headed to center field. It was the final out of an inning that Calvary thought might never end.
“I thought, ‘Oh my Lord,’” Van Noppen said of his reaction to catching a mid-air bullet. “And it almost fell out of my glove.”
“That ball,” Legg said, “was touched, to say the least.”
Pitching in this game was the last thing on Van Noppen’s mind when it started. He figured his role was just to bat fourth as the designated hitter. But when things started going sideways for the Cavs, he had to hustle down to the bullpen to get ready.
“It was chaotic,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to pitch at all.”
As you would figure to be the case, Covenant Christian didn’t go quietly in the seventh. A single opened the inning and after a popped-up bunt and a sacrifice bunt, the Lions got a walk to put the go-ahead run on base. Connor Matherne, who was the Lions’ starting pitcher and had been on base four times, hit a deep fly to right field that had the Cavalier crowd holding its breath.
But Kooper Savage, the third right fielder of the game for Calvary, backed up and settled under it to end the game and the dogpile ensued in the middle of the infield.
“I knew my boy Koop had it all the way,” Van Noppen said.
Now it’s time to get on a bus and get to Hammond for the state finals with no time to waste. Calvary will meet Ouachita Christian, a 10-0 winner over neighborhood rival St. Frederick, in the finals at 11 a.m. Saturday at Southeastern Louisiana University.
“I told my kids that when the bell rings you have to be ready to answer it,” Legg said. Little did he know it would ring in the sixth inning.
“That’s not how I would have liked for it to have ended,” Legg said. “But I’ll take it any way I can get it.”
Photo by JOHN PENROD