Hawks fall to Blue Devils 3-0 in title game
Tanner Kockler sank onto his haunches as first cousin Michael Wesselmann's bat sailed past his head to end the cousins' season and career.
Kockler remained in his catcher's crouch in the on-deck circle as the Martensdale-St. Marys players celebrated their 3-0 win and Wesselmann cursed the result.
It didn't seem right for Kockler, whose gutsy 185-pitch effort had propelled the Hawks into the Class 1A state final, not to get a chance.
But the storybook ending came for No. 1 Martensdale-St. Marys instead of unranked Remsen St. Mary's as the Blue Devils earned their first state title since 2004. RSM is still looking for its elusive fourth summer title and first since the Hawks' three-peat ended in 1985.
M-SM capped its undefeated season with a 43-0 record. RSM finishes up the season 26-9 and one win short of the title it fully expected to win after its 9-8, come-from-behind win over defending state champion Newman Catholic in Thursday's semifinal.
"It's hard to explain, but it's a lot of disappointment," said RSM senior Matt Arens, whose RBI single supplied the winning margin in Thursday's semifinal win. "I can't complain about the season - it was a great season. We wanted to get it done. When we were freshmen, we had that sour taste from losing the championship and didn't want it to happen again, but we had a heckuva season."
Hawks starter Andrew Portz (6-2) allowed three runs in the first inning to complete the scoring for the contest. He shut down the Blue Devils on five hits over the next 5 1/3 innings before he was lifted for Arens with one out in the top of the seventh.
The performance followed a season trend for the All-War Eagle Conference second team pitcher, who tends to get stronger as a game progresses.
"I just let up too many runs too early and that ended up being the difference in the ball game," Portz said. "My fastball felt like it was tailing out and the umpire had a pretty tight strike zone so it wasn't working out that first inning at all."
The Hawks had trouble with M-SM starter Ethan Westphal, who was back at the state tournament after pitching Lenox into the state title contest in 2009 against Newman Catholic.
Westphal (16-0) struck out 11 RSM hitters and finished his junior campaign by allowing just three earned runs all season.
The only time RSM threatened came in the fourth, but a bizarre double play helped kill the rally. Wesselmann and Kockler opened the inning with back-to-back singles to bring up Beau Pick, who worked the count full before taking what he thought was ball four. The M-SM catcher was unable to corral the ball and Pick took off for first while Wesselmann and Kockler left for third and second, respectively. Except then the umpire signaled strike three to retire Pick and Wesselmann was gunned down at third for a strange double play.
"I didn't hear (the umpire say) anything," Pick said. "The catcher didn't catch the ball (so) you think it wouldn't be a strike, especially if it's that far outside. But I looked back after I started walking and he (signaled strike three) and my base-runners are in the middle of the base paths, so that pretty much screwed us over. That was a big play in the ball game."
Klein came down from his third base coaches box in protest, but to no avail.
"To me, it looked like the catcher had to go way outside to catch the ball and that's how he missed it," Klein said. "The umpire, of course, said it was a strike and I have to believe him. At that point, I'm not sure what really happened. We teach our runners that as soon as the ball gets away from the catcher, we're taking off and going...I think Beau, running down the line so far, made Mike Wesselmann run, stop, run and then it was too late."
Portz followed with what could have been an RBI single, but Klein held Kockler at third. Zane Phillips walked to load the bases, but Westphal fanned Cody Colling to end the threat.
RSM's only other chance came in the seventh when Colling led off with a hit and Steichen followed two outs later with another hit. But Westphal struck out Wesselmann to win the state title and make the Blue Devils the first Class 1A team to go undefeated since Kee of Lansing in 1973.
"To say you're going to go undefeated at the beginning of the season is pretty unrealistic," M-SM coach Justin Dehmer said. "When we looked at our schedule, we knew that we had a schedule where we could fair well against every team.
"And we thought sure if we played well, we could beat every team on our schedule. But to be 43-0, we didn't think we would be, no."
Steichen, Wesselmann, Kockler, Pick, Portz and Colling each had a single to pace the Hawks.
"A lot of people, they didn't expect us to make it this far, so it's pretty cool that we made it to the championship game," said Portz, one of five seniors on the Hawks' roster. "But again, we expected more and it didn't happen. So we're pretty bummed about that. But it's pretty exciting to make it this far. I definitely wouldn't trade anything for it."