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No. 4 South Lyon gets ‘balk-off’ win to split with No. 5 Lakeland, setting up winner-take-all game for LVC title

By: Matthew B. Mowery, May 21, 2019, 11:20 pm

SOUTH LYON — It was the walk-off balk — or the balk-off — that kept the Lions’ hopes alive. 

Needing a win to extend the Lakes Valley Conference title chase another day, No. 4-ranked South Lyon got the rally it needed in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s nightcap, scoring the game-winning run on a bases-loaded balk to beat No. 5 Lakeland, 2-1. 

Tuesday’s split sets up a winner-take-all Game 3 of the series at the Eagles’ home field on Wednesday. 

“This is the way it should be. Comes down to the final game of the season, and the winner’s going to win the championship. And it’s two good teams battling,” said South Lyon coach Bill Heidt, whose team lost Tuesday’s opener, 2-0, putting the backs of the Lions (23-3, 21-2 LVC) against the wall. “Two great games, very well-pitched, well-played in the field. That’s the way it should be.”

The Eagles (27-3, 22-1 LVC) obviously weren’t happy with the final ruling of Tuesday’s games, but they also know that depending on what happens on Wednesday, it’ll either stick in everyone’s memory —  becoming “The Balk-Off,” a seminal moment in the short history of the relatively young league — or it’ll fade out of memory as just a footnote.

We have everything we want right in front of us. That’s the fun part, and it’ll be it’ll be a good high school baseball game again,” Lakeland coach Brad Farquhar said. 

“Whoever takes two out of three takes the series, so you kind of live and die on every pitch. Two really, really well-played high school baseball games. Very clean, pitchers threw a lot of strikes, and we came up a little short.” 

Both games were ones that could’ve gone either way, as the two teams combined for just five runs on six total hits in the doubleheader, with both teams playing superb defense.

“I said in the like the second inning of the first game, ‘This feels like a district final.’ It had that feel, just the intensity was there for both teams, and they were making plays on both sides. I mean, there were some great plays out here,” Heidt said. “That’s what you want to see. It’s all about the guys making plays.”

Lakeland’s Case Jaworski and South Lyon’s Sean Cassel dueled it out in the opener, with Jaworski striking out eight in six scoreless innings of three-hit baseball. 

The Eagles got their two runs in the top of the seventh inning, when Drake Schultz led off the frame with a walk, and scored on an RBI single by Grant Burns. Lakeland made it 2-0 when Burns and Anthony Rossi pulled off the first-and-third steal to perfection, with Rossi swiping home. Austin Conley set the Lions down in order in the bottom of the seventh to record the save.

The Eagles had chances early, missing on one in the first, when the contact play at third backfired, getting the lead runner caught in a rundown. Lakeland converted in the second inning without the benefit of a hit, when Sam Falzon walked, moved to second on a failed pickoff, and third on a wild pitch, and scoring on Jaworski’s RBI groundout, giving Lakeland a 1-0 lead. 

“We blew an opportunity in the first inning. We got our leadoff guy to third, and just couldn’t produce what we wanted. We got a run across in the second inning, and after that, Brandon Martin did a very, very good job of pitching us. Pitching to contact, and they made some really, really nice high school baseball plays,” Farquahar said. “Kids are playing hard, and not just for that plastic trophy you get at the end of the year, but they’re playing had because both teams have got a lot of winners on them.”

Martin had three more runners reach base, two of them in the third on an error and a walk, along with a two-out error in the sixth, but didn’t allow a hit, striking out four and walking three.

Trent Farquhar matched him nearly pitch-for-pitch, setting down the first nine South Lyon batters before Brian Plohetski’s leadoff double in the fourth. Ironically, that ended up as the only hit in the game.

Plohetski moved to third on a passed ball, and scored on Ronnie Menard’s RBI groundout to tie it up at 1-1. 

The Lions got their leadoff runner on in the fifth, as well, but Farquhar got out of it with three straight groundouts. He wasn’t as lucky in the seventh, when Nate Logan drew a leadoff walk, and Steven Shelton was hit by a pitch to put two on with no outs. Grant Fish’s sacrifice bunt put two in scoring position, and the Eagles chose to put Ben Masters on, leaving the rally up to Jacob Perrone.

But the designated hitter didn’t even have to swing the bat once, as the umpire ruled Farquhar went to his mouth, and then put his hand directly onto the ball, the balk advancing all three runners one base, and bringing Logan home with the game-winning run.

Neither team came into the season considered one of the elite squads — Lakeland first appeared in the final coaches’ poll in April, at No. 16, while South Lyon debuted that week at No. 5 — but both will head into the postseason among the top teams in Division 1, thanks to very similar stories. 

“First and foremost, our senior leadership. They’re an extension of the coaching staff, and it’s a player-run team,” Brad Farquhar said. “When you’ve got guys working hard, and they manage themselves, that makes for a special year.”

South Lyon’s skipper sounded like he was echoing the same sentiments.

“We had a feeling last year. The two years previous, we won like 10 games and 12 games. Last year, we won 21, and we had a group of juniors that I knew, if they took ownership, and became the leaders I thought they could be, that we would have a special season this year. And it started in the weight room in the middle of the winter. Those seniors took ownership, and we’ve got what we’ve got. I’ve got two senior pitchers now one’s got nine wins, one’s got eight wins. I’ve got seniors playing everywhere, and making plays. You can’t ask for anything more than that. And their leadership for the whole group,” Heidt said. “I’ve been coaching for 21 straight years now, and this it the best dugout I’ve ever been a part of.”

That story sounds very much the same as the ones told by Lions football coach Jeff Henson when his team ran the table on the regular season — after going 1-8 in 2017 — and finished 10-1. That’s more to do with a couple of strong athletic classes at South Lyon than it is direct correlation between the two teams.

“I think there are only three football players of the 19 kids in that dugout,” Heidt said. “It’s just a good group of kids that wants to work hard. We stay on them, but we have a lot of fun, as well. That’s what it’s about, right? The kids are supposed to have fun, they’re supposed to make memories. They’ll look back 15 years from now, and they’ll remember this game.”