Some may enjoy the ease of open roads and calm seas and clear skies. This Holy Trinity baseball team isn’t among them. The rougher the path, the more it seems to thrive. The hard way became the Titan way this season.
So it was again as Holy Trinity battled Buffalo Diocese champion St. Francis High in Saturday’s CHSAA Class AA baseball championship game. It trailed by a run with one out in the top of the fifth inning and had moments it could look back on with regret. One runner was thrown out at home. Another had been picked off at first base after a leadoff hit that inning.
It was the perfect setting for the Titans to do their thing. Andrew Heppner delivered a run-scoring double to tie it before the fifth was over and his flare single with two out in the seventh brought in the go-ahead run as Holy Trinity maneuvered past the Red Raiders for a 3-2 victory and captured the state championship at St. John’s Jack Kaiser Stadium.
Righthander Sean Atkinson faced the potential winning run with two out in the seventh and got the Raiders’ Brady Hill to hit a ground ball to second baseman Sean Maddi. When Maddi’s throw hit first baseman Kyle Kozlowski’s glove for the final out, the celebration was on. The triumphant Titans (21-8) mobbed one another behind the pitcher’s mound.
“The best part about this team all year is we've always found ways to fight back,” Holy Trinity coach Dan Luisi said. “It's been the toughest, most resilient group I've ever coached . . . Even when we haven't played our best baseball, we've always found ways in big moments to get ourselves in a game with a big hit, a big pitch or a big play.”
“We’ve been coming back all year,” Heppner said. “We were the No. 5 seed (of six) in the playoffs. We were down in (Game 1) of the (NSCHSAA) championship (series) against Chaminade and came back. We may get down, but we’re never out. We have faith in each other and we know we can win any game.”
Heppner has been especially strong in the postseason. In the five games that comprised the diocese and state championships, he was 8-for-13 and reached base 14 times.
“He was exactly what we needed,” Atkinson said of Heppner. “If he wasn’t here, we’d have lost.”
Having a player thrown out at the plate in the top of the first felt even worse when starting pitcher Tyler Cook struggled with his control and allowed two runs by the Raiders (18-12) in a 32-pitch bottom of the frame. However, Cook got gritty and battled traffic until he finally settled down and retired the last eight St. Francis batters he faced in a five-inning effort.
After the pick-off in the top of the fifth, Cook blasted a triple to wall in left center and scored on Heppner double over the centerfielder’s head. “Thing got quiet for a minute, but we were back up after I hit that ball,” he said.
In the seventh a Kozlowski rope down the third base line went for a single and put runners on first and second with two out. St. Francis was playing deep against Heppner, the cleanup hitter, and he lofted one into short center.
Asked about the moment the ball came off hit bat, Heppner replied “I saw the centerfielder was playing deep and it looked like he wasn't going to catch it. When it got down it was just joy, to be honest.”
Coming into the tie game, Atkinson said “my nerves were through the roof until that first strike and first out.” He allowed a two-out hit in each of his scoreless innings to push the Titans over the finish line.