ALLIANCE — As anyone who has ever watched a Super Bowl or NCAA Final Four can tell you, championship games rarely live up to the pregame expectations.
Sunday’s Class GG Hot Stove baseball state championship game between Keystone Houston Alco Manufacturing and the Rootstown Rovers was different.
It featured stellar pitching and outstanding defense the likes of which are seldom seen on the high school varsity level and never imagined in a game between teams of 11-year-olds. But in the end, Rootstown’s Adam Beery hit a two-out eighth-inning double that scored Dillon Walsh and gave the Rovers a 3-2 win and the state title.
“The two best teams played in the state finals today and they both played like champions,” Keystone manager Rocky Houston said. “I’m so proud of my team. We made some mistakes early. We kept our composure and kept ourselves in the game. We got some runners on base in the late innings, but we just couldn’t get that key hit.”
Both teams entered the game unbeaten. Keystone finishes with a 29-1 record.
Keystone scored first in the second inning when Hudson Hall singled, stole second and came home on a Nathan Archer single to right field. Rootstown answered in the bottom half of the inning, scoring two runs on one hit. Kael Vasbinder walked and eventually stole home. Matt Brown singled and scored on a wild pitch.
Catcher Julian Martinez led off the third with a walk for Keystone and came around to score, tying the game at 2. After that the game belonged to the pitchers.
Archer started for Keystone, allowing just one hit in four innings. Avery Blakenship come on in relief, struck out five of the first six Rovers he faced, and only allowed two hits despite being tagged with the loss.
Three Rootstown pitchers — Tommy Weese, Shawn Barber and Vasbinder — held a Keystone team that scored 22 runs in the state semifinal and had scored at least 11 runs in each of its four previous postseason games, to just two runs on four hits.
“I was in shock at the level of pitching today by both teams,” Rootstown manager Steve Vasbinder said. “I’ve never seen two teams in this age group play this kind of game. It was clean, crisp baseball. All I kept thinking was I’m glad we’re the home team and we’re going to get a final at-bat.”
Keystone loaded the bases with one-out in the seventh inning on a single by Archer and walks by Blankenship and Hall. Extra hitter Michael Crowell followed with a line drive that Rovers shortstop Drake Mason ranged to the left to pluck out of the air and ran to second to double up the runner who broke toward third on contact. Keystone got a runner to third base again in the eighth inning with one out, but was unable to drive him home.
Keystone only committed one error in the game while Rootstown had two miscues. Each catcher also threw out a runner trying to steal second base.
Archer, who went 2-for-3, was the only Keystone player with a multi-hit game.
Beery’s double not only won his team a state championship, it also helped him earn the tournament MVP trophy.
“I didn’t have a hit yet so I just kept thinking, ‘Get a hit, get a hit,’ and he threw me a low, inside fastball and I just hit it hard,” Beery said. “When I saw it go over the right fielder’s head I was surprised and happy. We were pumped up in the dugout, but it was hard game. Both teams played hard.”
For the Keystone team, the bulk of which has played together since 5, Houston does not believe the final loss should be seen as the defining moment of the season.
“I know everyone is upset and sad right now,” he said. “But this team has been together for years, they play for each other. It is great story to see a group of kids from a small town like LaGrange come together and have this much success. Today’s result does nothing to change what kind of season we had.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.