The pressure of playoff baseball can throw a team off its game, but when Tuesday’s Class 4A playoff game at St. Michael took a familiar turn the Warriors were ready.
Displaying poise befitting a No. 6 seed, St. Michael used a three-run third inning to spark a 4-2 come-from-behind win over No. 27 Salmen at St. Michael.
Rallying for the win in important games was a key component for St. Michael (19-9) in home wins over District 6-4A foes Plaquemine and Lutcher.
“We’ve fallen behind early and come back for big wins,” SMHS coach Johnny Bernhard said. “We’ve been in this spot before, and it was no big deal because we’ve been there. We’ve done a good job of playing baseball for seven innings.”
With the win, St. Michael advances to play a best-off-three series this weekend against the winner between No. 11 Cecilia and No.22 Plaquemine.
Salmen (11-17) got a strong start from senior pitcher Drew Kennedy, who stranded three runners in scoring position in the first two innings. The dam broke open in the third when he faced eight batters and threw 40 pitches.
A single sandwiched between two walks loaded the bases for cleanup hitter Michael Smith with no outs. Smith hit a grounder that was bobbled by Spartans third baseman Cai Suprean. Instead of a possible double play, Suprean threw late to first after a run had scored.
The Warriors added two more runs on Leighton Waitz’ bases-loaded walk and Mason Gremillion’s RBI groundout.
“There were a couple of plays that made the difference,” Salmen coach Brian Babin said. “We bobbled one at third and couldn’t get the double play. We didn’t battle through it, but our guys have worked hard. As a (No.) 27 seed against a (No.) six seed, I thought we did a good job.”
Salmen took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second off St. Michael starter Tyler Ezell, who hit Bryce Darby with a pitch to start the inning. Darby was sacrificed to second, took third on a wild pitch, and scored on Kennedy’s squeeze bunt.
Ezell threw four innings, and got help from two Warriors’ double plays.
Jon Lofton relieved Ezell to start the fifth and ran into trouble after walking the first two batters. He retired the next two batters, and then appeared to have picked off Colby Dowden at second base.
After using a handful of Warriors in the rundown, the umpires’ ruled that St. Michael had obstructed Dowden during the play, and Dowden was ruled safe. Lofton, who had tagged Dowden, also tagged Zack Lane between first and second. It was an out that was allowed to stand for the third out of the inning.
Salmen pulled within 3-2 in the sixth after Dylan Cross reached on a dropped fly ball. Andrew Carlos followed with a single to left to score Cross.
St. Michael answered right back in its half of the sixth. Dwain Varisco led off with a double in the gap to right. He eventually scored on Smith’s two-out single to center.
In the seventh, Lane walked with one out and took second on a wild pitch. Lofton got a strikeout and a fly ball to end the game.
“Our plan was to have (Ezell and Lofton) split the game,” Bernhard said. “They kept the ball on the ground and got a lot of groundouts. They did what they’ve been doing all year.”
Bernhard also had praise for the St. Michael support staff, which worked all day to get the field ready.
“Today was a tremendous job by a lot of people. Starting at 7:30 this morning, we worked nonstop to get the field ready. When the game started we felt like we’d already done a lot of work, and here was Salmen, fired up and ready to go.”