Trojans Push Grand Ledge to the Brink in District Title Game Thriller

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019, 8:10 am
Mark Meyer

East Lansing sophomore Aiden Rudy delivers a pitch in the first inning of Monday's Division 1 district title game against Grand Ledge. (Photos by Jim Pivarnik)

After having mustered only three hits and trailing by five runs through six innings, East Lansing was less than 90 feet away from tying Monday’s Division 1 district championship baseball game in its final at-bat.

That’s how fast and furious things changed in a matter of minutes at the Home of the Trojans field.

Before recording the final out of its eventual 5-4 victory, Grand Ledge had to strand the tying and potential game-winning runs at third and second base, respectively, in a bottom of the seventh inning that turned mighty precarious in the closing moments.

With one out, East Lansing loaded the bases on singles by Mark Watters and Jayth Joseph, sandwiched around a Grand Ledge fielding error on a ball hit by Benno Staszewski.

Will Knapp’s infield single scored one run, as did a sacrifice fly to center field off the bat of Jack Belloli. Two outs, runners at first and second, Grand Ledge leads 5-2.

With East Lansing’s Sam Busch at the plate, Grand Ledge head coach Pat O’Keefe calls for an intentional walk to again load the bases.

East Lansing junior first baseman-pitcher Sam Busch drives a ball to deep right field in his first at-bat Monday. 

Aiden Rudy, the Trojans’ next batter, grounds a ball that Comets’ second baseman Devon Gardella fails to field cleanly, and suddenly the Trojans have scored two more runs – and they have runners at second and third, with two outs.

Logan Hyler, pitching in relief of Grand Ledge starter Payton Wieber, closed out the game by retiring East Lansing’s Ethan Cullen – the ninth Trojan to bat in the bottom of seventh inning – on a fly ball to right field.

“These guys have done it all year, they’ve never quit,” said East Lansing head coach Mark Pendred. “They kept working, we had an opportunity and were only a hit away. But, that’s baseball … and hopefully, next time we get the hit.”

Young squad shows promise for the future

East Lansing started seven underclassmen in Monday’s game, including a pair of sophomores (Rudy and Knapp) at pitcher and catcher, respectively.

“These kids had some experiences that, had they stayed on the JV team, they wouldn’t have been in,” Pendred said. “They played in big games and played well, so we definitely have things to look forward to these next couple of years.”

Grand Ledge, which earlier in the day defeated Okemos 9-3 in a semifinal game that had been postponed Saturday because of heavy afternoon rain, will play for the Diamond Classic championship Tuesday at Michigan State’s McLane Stadium. The Comets then will come back to East Lansing to open regional play on Wednesday.

“I wasn’t pleased that we booted some balls in the seventh inning and allowed the winning run to get to second base, but Payton pitched well and we’re happy to get this district title,” said Grand Ledge head coach Pat O’Keefe.

Grand Ledge opened the scoring with two runs in the first, a run in the second and two more in the fifth. The Comets also left eight runners on base in the first four innings.

East Lansing came out swinging in the bottom of the first inning and put runners on first and third after base hits by Belloli and Rudy. However, Wieber benefited from strong defensive plays by his third baseman, Aaron West, and right fielder, Noah Warren, on hard-hit balls by Cullen and Busch, respectively, to escape without allowing a run.

Wieber then held the Trojans without a hit until one out in the fifth when pinch-hitter Jayth Joseph laced a triple down the right-field line. Wieber then retired the next six Trojans before the excitement began in the bottom of the seventh.

East Lansing concludes its season with a record of 18-16-2. As the players were leaving the locker room and the coaching staff was busy repairing the field (in preparation to host a regional game Wednesday), Pendred had a brief moment to reflect on Monday's loss, as well as the loss of longtime assistant Ed Outslay (who passed away May 20).

"Ed will be missed, that's the understatement of the year," Pendred said, with broom in hand. "But he would have been proud the way we battled. That's the kind of person he was."


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