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Lake ends St. Al’s storybook season

[05/06/01] LAKE St. Aloysius worked a miracle Saturday night, but had it brushed aside by a storybook ending.

The Flashes (22-5) didn’t hit a ball out of the infield until the seventh inning, when they rallied for four runs to tie the game, but Lake’s Jason McGee who had struck out four times and made an error that allowed St. Al to tie it singled home the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to give defending state champion Lake a 5-4 win and a return trip to the state finals.

“I hate that it comes down to one play, but that’s what baseball is about,” said St. Al coach Joe Graves, who was back for his first game since the first round of the playoffs. He was in Houston, Texas, where his mother died last week. “We battled and fought and did everything it took to win, and we just came up a little short. But hats off to our kids. They don’t have a quitting bone in their body.”

Lake (26-7) pitcher Craig Martin shackled the Flashes for the first six innings. He didn’t allow a hit and walked only one, but things started to fall apart in the seventh.

St. Al catcher Aaron George led off with a triple down the right-field line and pitcher Ryan Hearn followed with a two-run home run to cut it to 4-2. After two lineouts to center, Lee Wiles doubled to left and scored on a single by Chris Bass. McGee misplayed the ball, however, allowing Bass to go all the way to third. Clay Simmons followed and quickly fell behind in the count 1-and-2.

Down to St. Al’s last strike of the season, Simmons fought off a high pitch with a check-swing and blooped the ball into right field and Bass scored easily to tie the game. Blake Warnock hit the next pitch from Martin hard, but it went right to second baseman Jason Massey for an inning-ending fielder’s choice.

“I just went with it. I hadn’t been hitting anything in the playoffs and I just went with it,” Simmons said.

Both teams stranded the potential winning run at third in the eighth, and McGee got an opportunity to atone for his error when St. Al made a crucial blunder of its own.

Hearn, who threw nearly 150 pitches in 82/3 innings, struck out 14 and didn’t allow a hit after a third-inning homer by Massey until McGee’s single, easily retired the first two batters in the ninth and got Eric Gunn to dribble a grounder between the mound and first base.

Hearn fielded, but bobbled the ball. Then, instead of flipping to first, he tried to beat Gunn to the bag. Gunn slid headfirst into the base and beat Hearn by a step.

“I don’t know what happened,” Hearn said of the play.

Gunn advanced to second on a wild pitch and Hearn walked No. 9 batter Lee Dooley to bring up McGee, who had struck out in his first four trips to the plate. This time, however, McGee lined an outside fastball to right-center to bring home Gunn with the winning run.

“It feels outstanding. I can’t put it into words,” McGee said. “I thought I’d screwed up royally when when I missed that ball … But I had faith and I got another chance.”

Graves hugged each of his seniors after the game, and several of them had tears in their eyes.

“The hardest thing is everybody wanted it so bad, and we know we’re better than them,” Simmons, a senior, said. “I’m not ready for it to end yet … I wanted state, but I’ll deal with South State.”