Josh Nelson comes in relief, Saline rallies for 5-3 win over Hartland
East Lansing – Hartland’s run at a rare second consecutive Division 1 title ended at the hands of a coach and program that’s all too familiar with the heartache the state tournament can offer.
Trailing 3-2, Saline scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning and held on to defeat Hartland, 5-3, in a semifinal on Thursday at McLane Stadium on the campus of Michigan State.
Hartland (36-6-1) won its first title last season.
Saline (35-6) will make its fifth final appearance when it plays Warren De La Salle for the title on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Saline has never won a title.
“I told (my team) I’ve never been disappointed in them,” Hartland coach Brian Morrison said. “Baseball is the hardest to win. More often than not the best team doesn’t win. Balls bouncing everywhere; anything can happen. I’ll never even take winning a district title for granted.”
Saline took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second on an RBI single by Kellen Huang and Ryan Foley’s RBI triple. Foley, the ninth batter in the lineup, has tripled in Saline’s quarterfinal.
Hunter DeLanoy tied the game for Hartland with a sacrifice fly in the third and a double in the fifth that scored Jack Slavin. John Baker singled in DeLanoy to give the Eagles a 3-2 lead.
Sean O’Keefe started for Saline and lasted 2 2/3 innings. Josh Nelson came in with the bases loaded and struck out Cade Martin to end the third.
Nelson pitched well despite giving up those two runs in the fifth. He struck out five, walked three, allowed two hits and was aided by two double plays.
“It’s quite stressful,” Nelson said of entering the game with the bases loaded. “It’s the third time in the tournament I’ve come in with the bases loaded. I’m used to it but it’s still stressful. My slider was on today. It was there when I needed it to be.
“I was scared to death (in the seventh inning). I just wanted to get out of there.”
Nelson set the side down in order in the seventh.
He began the season in the bullpen, made eight-to-10 starts, then was sent back to the pen by coach Scott Theisen.
Nelson also had a sacrifice fly in that pivotal fifth. That tied the score at 3-3 and Richard Hovde’s two-run single with two outs proved to be the winning hit.
“That changed the momentum a little,” Theisen said of the sacrifice fly. “If we don’t get that run, you never know what might happen.”
Saline had a base hit in every inning and had 10 for the game. Thomas Miller, Cole Daniels and Huang each had two.
Nathan Lohmeier was the starting and losing pitcher. He went five innings and gave up nine hits, three walks and he struck out four.
“I thought he pitched well,” Morrison said. “I thought it was more about them. Saline is a good hitting team. They fouled off a lot of pitches and made him work. They got the two-out hits and we didn’t.”