The Kentwood Conquerors were knocking on the door Saturday night, looking for the Class 4A state baseball title at Gesa Stadium.
But Skyline’s Connor Knutson locked the door and tossed the key, shutting down the Conks’ bats in the final two innings and preserving the Spartans’ 2-1 victory.
Kentwood, trailing 2-1 in the sixth inning, got runners on first and second base with nobody out after Isaac Hegamin and Shane McGuire had back-to-back singles.
That was enough for Skyline coach Brandon Hemphill, who decided his starter, Jack Rooney, had had enough.
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Rooney had thrown 79 pitches, surrendering four hits.
Hemphill brought Knutson in, and the right-hander promptly picked off Hegamin at second.
“They had an inside pickoff play on right when we called a double steal,” said Kentwood coach Mark Zender. “I don’t know if they smelled it or what. It’s just baseball.”
Knutson then struck out the next two batters to thwart the rally.
In the bottom of the seventh, Kentwood lead off hitter Garrett Stewart reached base when his fly ball to right field was dropped by Skyline’s Riley Guill.
That put Stewart on second base. Kentwood’s Trenton Harris then worked the count full before drawing a walk.
That was enough for Knutson, who collected himself and struck out the next three batters to stave off the Conks and earn Skyline’s first state baseball championship.
For the Conks, it was a tough loss. They had been breathing down Skyline’s neck all night.
“We didn’t play well early in the game,” said Zender. “But we fought to the end. Our kids know that if we played them again, we could win.”
The Spartans reached Kentwood starter Ben Wadowski for a run in the first inning.
Dax Kringle’s line drive single to left scored Danny Sinatro.
But Wadowski got the run back when he singled to right to score Hegamin in the fourth, tying the game at 1-1.
Skyline got the lead back for good in the fifth, as Sinatro’s bunt single scored Guill. For Sinatro, the son of former Seattle Mariner Matt Sinatro, it was his second bunt single of the game.
Skyline put pressure a number of times on the Conks defense by playing small ball.
“That whole KingCo League does that,” said Zender. “And Skyline does it a lot. You have to play defense well.”
The Kentwood locker room wasn’t morose after the game. Sure, the team was hurting. But the players knew it was a great season.
“We’ve been playing together since Little League,” said first baseman Trenton Harris, who played both games this weekend with a broken left hand suffered in regionals. “When we were young, our coaches told us that when we got to play varsity, we’d play for the state championship. We didn’t get it tonight. This is how the game goes.”
“That was two very tough teams,” said Hegamin. “We definitely expected to be here when the season began. We knew we had the talent.”
And it was one of Zender’s favorite teams.
“This is a very special group of kids,” said Zender. “That’s the main thing I take from this. They were really emotional afterwards. But a lot of these kids will be friends for life.”
The loss finished Kentwood’s record at 24-6. Hegamin, McGuire, Wadowski and Jacob McCord each had hits for the Conks.
Skyline finishes at 19-8.