Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Terra Nova’s Mitchel Peterson mimics the umpire’s ‘safe’ signal and Tigers’ manager Joey Gentile celebrates Peterson’s game-winning run in a 5-4 win over visiting Menlo School Friday afternoon. The Tigers scored twice in their final at-bat to rally from a 4-3 deficit.
As the Terra Nova baseball team’s designated hitter, Steve Sagasty is expected to hit the ball hard and far.
But in the bottom of the seventh inning of a 4-4 tie with visiting Menlo School, Sagasty’s hit didn’t even leave the infield.
What the ball lack in velocity, however, was made up with placement. Sagasty’s cue shot to the hole between first and second base was placed perfectly enough that it enabled him to reach first safely and allowed Mitchel Peterson to score from second to give the Tigers an improbable 5-4 victory over the Knights.
“We’ve been playing so bad. We needed that (win) bad,” said Terra Nova manager Joey Gentile. “We haven’t had any clutch hits (so far this season).”
The win was especially important for Terra Nova (1-1 PAL Bay, 3-4 overall), considering the Tigers were coming off a 4-0 shutout loss to Sacred Heart Prep Thursday.
“Hopefully, this turns [our season] around,” Gentile said.
The final inning saw a huge momentum swing from Menlo’s dugout along the third-base line to the first-base line dugout of Terra Nova in just a matter of minutes. Trailing 3-1 going into their final at-bat, the Knights struck for three runs to take a 4-3 lead, only to see the Tigers score twice in their final at-bat in the bottom of the frame.
“We make a couple plays … we win the game,” said Menlo manager Craig Schoof. “We had a chance to do things. That’s the advantage of being the home team.”
Terra Nova’s No. 9 hitter, Jason Marinelli, started the game-winning rally by drawing a walk to lead off the bottom of the seventh. Peterson came to the plate and put down a sacrifice bunt, but the catcher’s throw to first was wild, enabling Marinelli to move to third.
Following a popout, Jacob Martinez came up and hit a fly ball to center field. It was deep enough to get Marinelli home and, when Tyler Armstrong drew a walk, Peterson moved into scoring position.
That brought up Sagasty, who ended the game.
“We needed this win. We need to turn our season around,” said Martinez, who drove in three runs for Terra Nova. “It was more about, ‘What kind of team are we?’ We’ve been through this before.”
The last-gasp rally made a winner of sophomore pitcher Jared Milch, who was called up to the varsity squad after an injury to Anthony Gordon, one of the Tigers’ best pitchers and players. He pitched a complete game, allowing four runs on three hits.
“He’s a competitor,” Gentile said of Milch. “He doesn’t get rattled.”
When Terra Nova, trailing 1-0, scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth, it looked as if Milch was going to earn a less dramatic win as he limited Menlo to just one run on one hit through six innings.
In the seventh, however, the Knights finally came alive. Macklan Badger led off the inning with his team’s second hit of the game, a single to center. Christian Pluchar then followed with a walk. After a Milch strikeout and a foulout to first baseman Brandon Barnes, the Knights were down to their last out.
Diekroeger, Menlo’s best player, came out and he was intentionally walked to load the bases and bring up Graham Stratford.
The strategy backfired on the Tigers, as Stratford dumped an opposite field single to left to drive in Badger and Pluchar with the tying run.
When the ball took a funny hop away from the left fielder, it enabled Diekroeger to score from first with the go-ahead run.
That set up Terra Nova’s dramatic final at-bat.
Menlo (1-1, 5-3) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third when Sam Crowder hit a sacrifice fly to center to drive in Mikey Diekroeger, who drew a one-out walk, went to second on an error and stole third.
Terra Nova finally solved Menlo starting pitcher Wyatt Driscoll in the bottom of the fifth. With one out, Marinelli singled to left and moved to second on a passed ball. Peterson drew a walk and both he and Marinelli moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch to put runners on second and third.
Following a strikeout, Martinez came to the plate and, on a 2-2 offering, smoked a drive into the left center-field gap for a two-run double to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead.
“That’s what we practice for,” Martinez said. “We want to be in that situation.”
Added Gentile: [Martinez is] our best hitter. He pulled his groin. He’s about 75 percent but he’s gutting it out.”
Armstrong followed with an RBI double of his own to put the Tigers up 3-1, setting up the wild ending.
“It’s going to be an interesting (PAL Bay Division) race,” Schoof said.