After topping Newfield 11–1 in the opening round of the Section IV Class C tournament on May 24, the Lansing baseball team advanced to the semifinals after defeating Elmira Notre Dame 8–1 on May 27.
Garrett Bell received the starting nod on the mound for the Bobcats on the day, and gave himself an early lead with a lead-off solo home run off of opposing starting pitcher Hunter Homerda. Bell pitched scoreless innings in the bottom half of the first and second before Lansing extended its lead in the top of the third.
Center fielder Ben Vincent reached on an infield single with one out in the inning, and advanced to second base on a ground ball by Bell. Next up was catcher Nick Ciaschi, who laced a base hit to left center field that scored Vincent and gave the Bobcats a 2–0 advantage.
Bell found himself in some trouble in the bottom half of the third. After surrendering a lead-off knock to third baseman Owen Stewart, Bell was able to retire the next two batters. However, back-to-back singles from second baseman Isaiah McKay and shortstop Ryess Youmans loaded the bases for Elmira Notre Dame.
Catcher Erik Charnetski then came up to the plate and hit a grounder to the left side of the infield. Bell dove to his right, snared the ground ball and tossed it over to first to get himself out of the jam and to continue to hold the Crusaders scoreles.
Even though the Bobcats were able to score a pair of runs early on against Homerda, Lansing head coach Hotchkiss said the team struggled early on identifying his breaking ball.
“He hides the ball really well,” Hotchkiss said. “He mixes a lot of pitches in. He doesn’t throw anything straight. He cuts and crafts a lot. … He threw a lot of breaking balls in hitter’s counts to try to keep us off-balance.”
Lansing eventually got to Homerda again of the fifth, doubling its lead to 4–0. With one out and Ciaschi at first, third baseman Anthony Ruquet hit a grounder over to short. Youmans mishandled the ball and Ruquet reached first on the error, advancing Ciaschi to second. However, Ciaschi strayed too far off of the bag during the play, and Youmans tossed the ball over to McKay, who tagged Ciaschi out for the second out of the inning.
First baseman Griffen Nelson came up to bat following the play and hit a single to right field that moved Ruquet over to second. Next up was shortstop Matt Weil, who doubled to center, driving in Ruquet and Nelson and increasing the Bobcats’ lead to 4–0.
Elmira Notre Dame chalked up its first run on the scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth. McKay led off the inning with a base on balls. He would advance to second on a wild pitch during the inning, and then to third on a ground ball back to Bell. McKay then scored on a base hit by first baseman Joe Milazzo as the Crusaders trailed 4–1.
Lansing’s offense responded in the top of the seventh, though, by scoring four runs to take a seven-run lead over Elmira Notre Dame. Bell led off the inning with a two-bagger down the left field line and eventually stole third. Ruquet plated Bell with a base hit to give the team a 5–1 lead.
Nelson followed up with a single of his own to advance Ruquet to second. After Weil flew out to center, second baseman Sean O’Callaghan singled up the middle to score Ruquet and augment the lead to 6–1. Left fielder Brad Lehr had the biggest blow of the inning when he clubbed a two-run triple that brought the Bobcats’ lead to 8–1.
Hotchkiss said he was pleased with how his hitters adjusted their approach during that frame.
“I think a lot of times guys get pretty macho and they get pull hungry and they get worried about getting beat by the fastball,” he said. “I think at that point in the game when you’re getting tired and it’s not coming in at the same [velocity] as it was to start, you have to look middle-away, and I thought Anthony did it. Griffen pulled it, but he stayed inside the ball, and Brad went the other way with a great fastball.”
Bell struck out the first two batters of the bottom of the seventh before being pulled in the middle of an at-bat against center fielder Steven Gough. O’Callaghan relieved Bell and ended up walking Gough before getting McKay to pop out for the third and final out of the game.
On the mound, Bell tossed six and two-thirds innings, giving up just one run on five hits while walking and hitting one batter and striking out 11. He went 2-for-4 with a homer and a double, along with a stolen base, two runs scored and a run batted in.
“He presented what we needed to do on a given day in a big situation,” Hotchkiss said of Bell’s overall performance. “The first thing we had to do was go out and punctuate. I said striking first is really important in the playoffs, and he comes out in the first at-bat and does it. That’s obviously huge for us to start with. He follows up in those first three or four innings going ahead and just holding them to zero, which was really important for us.”
Nelson went 2-for-4 with two runs scored. O’Callaghan went 2-for-4 with a run scored an RBI. Weil went 1-for-4 with a double, a stolen base and two RBI. Lehr went 1-for-3 with a three-bagger, a walk and two RBI. Ciaschi drove in a run, and Ruquet scored and drove in a run. Vincent scored a run as well.
Lansing will face Deposit/Hancock in the semifinals at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday May 29 at Hancock.