EUCLID - Some timely hitting, some clutch pitching and a very big play in the field - and today, the Grand Valley baseball team is a Division III district champion.
After seeing Hawken tie the game in the top of the fifth inning, the Mustangs scored once in the bottom of the same frame and twice more in the sixth to win Tuesday's district final, 6-3, at Euclid's Paul Serra Field.
In what is likely to confuse some people, the school from Orwell will face Orrville at 2 p.m. next Thursday in a regional semifinal contest at Massillon Washington High School.
It has been so long since the Mustangs have won a district baseball title - if in fact, they have never won one - that coach Russ Bell wasn't aware of when it happened last. For a group of eight seniors, which has pretty much played varsity together for three years in three sports and has been together on the diamond since long before that, it was one of the most significant and satisfying achievements in its career together.
"I don't know if I've been (as) excited since when we went to the state (baseball) tournament when we were in fifth grade," senior A.J. Henson said. "It's crazy. To spend it with these guys is really special."
On Tuesday Henson, Adam Moodt and Nate Wengerd each singled and doubled, combining for all but one of the Mustangs' hits. Both of Henson's hits, as well as Wengerds', were key in the scoring. Henson added a sacrifice fly to cap the sixth, and worked the final two innings to earn the save, with the only runner allowed coming on an error. He also squeezed a popup for the game's final out, setting off the celebration.
The evening began ominously, though, as Mitchell Lake (winner, 6-0) gave up two hits and then hit a batter to load the bases with nobody out.
However, the senior bounced back to fan the next two hitters. John Giesler followed with a bouncer up the middle, but second baseman Kyle Hodge made a sliding backhanded grab of the ball, and threw to Henson for the force.
"That play by Kyle Hodge was just unbelievable," Bell said. "That could possibly be the play of the year."
Using that momentum, the Mustangs (28-1) cashed in. Lake led off with a walk against Alex Hughes (5-4), and Henson singled him to third, When the ball was mishandled after it was thrown back to the infield, Lake came around to score.
"I can't put into words (how it feels)" Moodt, who said the achievement ranked very high, with the trip to the state baseball tournament, said. "We've been getting silvers (instead of gold)."
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.