SPRING VALLEY – There was plenty of grousing done by the hundreds of fans at Monday’s Class 2A regional championship game at Kirby Park because of the 75-minute thunder delay, but there likely would have been less complaining had they known the thrills and quality of baseball they were about to see.
After spotting the Hall Red Devils a 4-0 lead in the first inning and surrendering four home runs to the hosts thereafter, Marquette Academy kept their heads and went about the business of bouncing back against the No. 1 seed.
The No. 5 seeded Crusaders scored three runs in the second and four in the fourth – in each case on a two-run hit by Nick Melvin – then put the game away with a huge six-run sixth, highlighted by a grand slam by Grant Waldron, to claim a 13-8 victory over the Devils. It was Marquette’s fifth straight regional title and first in 2A since 2014.
The Crusaders, who collected 13 hits off of three Hall pitchers, will take their 15-2 record into the sectional semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Masinelli Field against Palos Heights Chicago Christian.
Hall finishes the season at 22-3.
“To not get anything in our first inning [two on with no outs, then have them come out and get four, we knew it was important we get something back right away, and we did,” Marquette coach Todd Hopkins said. “To beat a team that can swing the bats like that (12 hits, including four home runs) is a special group effort.
“The great at-bats Nick had, and the [injury] stuff that Grant has had to go through these last three years, for him to come up and barrel a ball up in that situation, driving it out of the park, that’s unbelievable. I couldn’t be happier for him. What a moment.
“We spotted a really, really good team, one we have a whole lot of respect for, a 4-0 lead, but kept our composure and kept fighting, chipping away, then finishing it off. … This is a good win.”
In the Hall first, Trez Rybarczyk doubled off Marquette starter Aiden Thompson, scored on a single by starting pitcher Payton Plym before Jack Savitch followed a walk to Kyler Lapp with another run-scoring hit. Gabe Lucas then singled in two more runs.
Marquette answered against Plym with singles by Waldron and Jake Thomas, a two-run single by Melvin and an RBI hit by Logan Nelson. The Crusaders took the lead in the third, starting with Shane Reynolds reaching on an error and a bunt single by Brady Ewers. Hayden McKenna singled in the first run, Melvin clubbed a triple into the right-field corner for two more then scored himself when the throw to third bounced out of play.
After the first inning, Hall got eight more hits, four of those home runs by Alec Bulak in the third, Ricky Perez in the fifth, Lapp in the sixth and Rybarczyk in the seventh. Unfortunately for the Devils, all four of those were solo shots leading off their respective innings. For the game, Hall stranded 11 runners on base.
Although up, 7-5, heading into the visitors sixth, Marquette clinched it beginning with a Thomas infield single. Nelson walked and moved to second on a fielder’s choice that put Luke Couch aboard, then Beau Ewers was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Couch was caught off second by a throw from Lapp to Rybarczyk, but when Nelson broke for home, the shortstop’s throw bounced over Lapp allowing not one but two runs to score. Walks to Reynolds and Brady Ewers loaded the bases again, and Waldron unloaded them with a shot over the fence in left.
The big innings made a winner of Nelson, who relieved Thompson in the third. Couch followed him to the bump in the fifth after the Perez homer and, despite giving up the latter two longballs, finished the win. Taking the loss was Plym, despite relief help from Savitch and Luke Kelty.
“I don’t know what the official tally is in terms of earned runs [only the first three Marquette runs were earned], but they hurt,” Hall coach Tom Keegan said. “The six-run sixth was a killer right there. If we get out of that inning, we’re still in the game, and maybe the complexion is different.
“Defensively, we just kicked it around, threw it around. Offensively, we certainly did enough, but when you give teams like Marquette multiple outs, they’ll punish you, and they sure punished us. Hats off to Hop and his squad. We have a lot of respect for them, for sure.”