July 14, 2024

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Super-charged baseball clash ends in thunderous fashion as Glenn jolts Garber

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MIDLAND, MI – Oh, that sound.

One deafening boom of the bat — one that will long reverberate like a victory bell for the John Glenn baseball team and a death knell for the Essexville Garber baseball season – brought an epic clash of cross-river rivals to a thunderous finish.

Nathan Ball rocketed a two-run double to the fence, sending Brody Krzysiak and Brady Rogers racing around the bases to instantly turn a one-run deficit into a one-run triumph, giving No. 19-ranked John Glenn a stunning 3-2 victory over No. 8 Garber in the Division 2 district championship game.

“There is no better feeling,” said Ball after his teammates chased him around the basepaths in ecstatic celebration. “I went up there saying ‘I am not letting us go home yet. What else am I going to do for the next week? We’ve got to keep playing.’

“You’ve got to believe – and we believed all day.”

After two walk-off wins in must-win situations – Glenn also edged Shepherd 4-3 in a nine-inning nailbiter in the semifinal – the Bobcats (28-10-1) advance to the regional semifinal to face Clare at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Gladwin.

Once a program that seemed snakebit at tournament time – with one district title in its first 37 tries – Glenn has now reeled off 12 championships in the past 14 seasons.

Bay City area baseball regional pairings

John Glenn baseball

John Glenn baseball players watch their pitcher warm up in the bullpen prior to the district title game Saturday.

But this was supposed to be Garber’s year.

A senior-laden team that features many of the players who led Essexville-Hampton Little League to within one win of the Little League World Series in 2016, the Dukes appeared poised for a long tourney run. They captured Bay County and Tri-Valley East titles – both at Glenn’s expense – and sport a can’t-miss ace in University of Michigan signee Tommy Szczepanski.

Szczepanski did his part, knocking out No. 5-ranked Bullock Creek 3-1 with a four-hit, 14-strikeout gem. But Garber (31-6) couldn’t quite finish the task against Glenn.

Glenn faced the difficult prospect of trying to refocus after its nine-inning marathon with Shepherd in the semifinal. But an emotionally charged game with Garber kept everybody in full-go mode.

“It’s definitely not easy, but you’ve got to come back out and compete against a great team like Garber after playing a game like that,” Ball said. “You’ve got to find a way to win, and that’s what John Glenn is all about.

“You’ve got to scrap and scrap and scrap, and that’s the way we are.”

The feisty rivals delivered in epic fashion, trading barbs, trading jabs and sending the showdown down to the wire.

Garber got a leadoff single from Blaise Millar and a single from Jack Day for an instant 1-0 first-inning lead. But Glenn starter Tanner Sonntag got out of a bases loaded situation to end the inning and avoid disaster. Garber stranded seven runners in the game and had two runners thrown out at the plate.

Glenn tied it in the bottom of the first on a two-out, RBI single by Carter Hebert. But Garber countered in the second inning when Millar raced home on an error for the 2-1 lead.

And that’s where Sonntag and Garber starter Max Fellows kept the score — until the final boom of the bat.

Both starters gave way in the sixth, with Glenn going to Game 1 winner Krzysiak and Garber going to Colin Sackrider, who notched a one-out save in the semifinal. Garber stood three outs away from the title when everything changed in the bottom of the seventh.

Krzysiak and Rogers worked their way on base with walks and up stepped Ball, the heavy-hitting, 6-foot-4 left-hander. He turned around a fastball with a vengeance, sending it soaring to the fence with a mighty yawp.

In an instant the game was over, and not with the outcome that seemed so likely just moments before.

“Nathan Ball tied into that one,” said Glenn coach Jeff Hartt, who nearly took flight while emphatically waving his runners home. “We had the right guys on base, because both of those guys can really run, but he hit it a mile.

“It’s just an awesome feeling. These guys battled all day, battled all year. They just never give up, and that was pretty evident in both games today.”

John Glenn baseball

John Glenn celebrates its district championship after a 3-2 win over Essexville Garber.

The opposite effect was felt in the Garber dugout, as a season of much promise and much achievement came to a sudden stop.

“That top part of their lineup, you want to avoid that as much as you can,” Garber coach Jon Jeczmionka said. “That part of the lineup came up at the end in a 2-1 game and made us pay.

“This wasn’t a shocker – Glenn is a great team – but I know my guys were crushed. We did some good things this year. I wish we were playing next week, but we’re not.”

The game goes on for Glenn, a team with just one senior and three freshmen in the starting lineup. But it’s a team that knows how to fight, which it showed in the semifinal win over Shepherd.

Glenn trailed 3-1 until tying it in the sixth then stood tall into the bottom of the ninth. Hebert, the lone senior in the lineup, came through with the game-winning hit as the Bobcats celebrated their first of two walk-off wins of the day.

Garber parlayed a three-run third inning into its 3-1 win over host Bullock Creek. Day had an RBI single and Szczepanski an RBI double in the pivotal inning.

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