Baseball: York drops 11-inning supersectional heartbreaker
McHenry baseball coach Brian Rockweiler marvels at his team's attitude of never thinking it is out of a game until the final out.
But Tuesday's Class 4A Northwestern Medicine Field supersectional tested even the strongest of believers.
York pitchers Tommy VanDaff and Max Hansmann rendered the Warriors' bats listless, allowing one hit through 10 innings.
When McHenry finally put a couple hits together in the bottom of the 11th, it trailed by one run and was down to its last strike.
Hansmann fired a strike to McHenry's Ricky Powell, who stayed alive with a foul tip, although the Dukes' dugout thought it was a third strike and started on the field to celebrate.
A few seconds later, it was McHenry that was wild with euphoria. Powell drilled a ball to left-center field for a two-RBI double, chasing pinch runner Justin Karcz and Connor Rodgers home for a 2-1 victory.
The Warriors (30-8) face Mundelein in Friday's second semifinal at Joliet's Duly Health and Care Field.
Powell stood stunned at second base as he was about to be mobbed.
"Disbelief. I didn't know what to do," Powell said. "There was no way that just happened. It was out of a dream."
McHenry's Kyle Kaempf, who pitched 6⅔ innings before moving to shortstop, foresaw Powell's success from the dugout.
"In the dugout, we were all scared to death," Kaempf said. "Ricky hasn't gotten a hit all day, so he's due. I said to myself, 'He's going to foul two balls off and get a fastball right down the middle. He gets that fastball, he's going to hit it.' Full confidence in Rick there."
Powell expected the same. He had a full count and fouled off two curveballs.
"I knew a fastball was coming," Powell said. "He hadn't thrown a fastball in the zone that was low and away, so I was kind of looking up and close to me. It was right there and tried to put a simple swing on it."
Warriors coach Brian Rockweiler said he was sending Rodgers all the way. Rodgers slid in and slapped home plate with his hand to kick off the celebration.
"We had Rodge on first, who's not our fastest runner, and I'm thinking to myself, 'It's going to take a ball in the gap to score,' " Rockweiler said. "And then it happens. It was awesome. It was just awesome watching these guys. They never, ever believe they're out of it. I've never coached a team that believes in each other as much as they believe in each other. It's fun."
York's dugout was silent as players sat, looking at the field in disbelief. A team that started its postseason 13-16 looked nothing like a .500 team (17-17).
VanDaff's only trouble came in the second when he walked the bases loaded. McHenry did not have another runner until Rodgers walked to lead off the seventh. Hansmann was just as tough for the next four innings.
"What an unbelievable game, on both sides. Kids battled," York coach Dave Kalal said. "For a supersectional game to go to11 innings and down to the final out and final strike. ... It was a great run by our kids, they never gave in, they battled, they competed.
"We were built for this moment, we were built for the playoffs and the kids showed it. We struggled all year long, over 20 different lineups we had all year and we finally got locked in three or four weeks ago. They were excited for the playoffs to start because they knew we had the arms to make a run. That's exactly what we did."
Kalal felt like the Dukes, with sophomores Ryan Sloan and Chris Danko, were set up well if they reached the Final Four.
"I just tried to have my team's back, keep us afloat. It's not the result we wanted, but it's baseball," Hansmann said. "We're a tight team, we bond well. The pitching came through and the hitters hit when we needed to. It kind of all came together at the end of the year."
Gavin Micklinghoff came up huge in relief for McHenry, striking out six and allowing two hits over 4 1/3 innings. He came in with runners on first and second in the seventh and kept the Dukes scoreless. Catcher Cooper Cohn had a big assist when a pitch tipped off his glove, but he ran it down and fired a strike to third baseman Cole Kersten to nip York's Mark Schneider.
"Throwing strikes. That's all you really can do," said Micklinghoff, who had not pitched since the regional opener two weeks previous. "In that situation, you don't want to walk anyone. Cooper saved me throwing that kid out at third, that was big.
"Full count on that final strikeout. There's no better feeling than that, 3-2, and get out of the inning. I was pumped up, that's for sure."
After that, Micklinghoff and Hansmann matched zeros for three more innings. York's Ryan Turner singled to lead off the 11th, was sacrificed to second and moved to third on a passed ball. Brian Filosa's high chopper barely made it halfway to third for an infield RBI hit.
Kaempf led off the 11th with a single but was forced at second. Kersten's hard ground ball was headed to right field, but it hit courtesy runner Jack Stecker for the second out.
Rodgers then singled to right on a 2-2 count before Powell's heroics.
"He saved me a lot of tears, that's for sure," Micklinghoff said.
Rockweiler was grateful that Kaempf (11 strikeouts) was on point and Micklinghoff had some of his best stuff.
"Unbelievable," Rockweiler said. "Kyle's been our guy all year and he just ran out of gas. For Gavin to come in and throw like that, he's pitched awesome all year. It was probably the hardest he threw all year. It was awesome."