It is doubtful Chris Adams knew just how fortuitous his words from earlier this week would be in the regional semifinals at Clinton Saturday.
“I think the team that’s going to come out of our region is the team with the best pitching and the team that makes the fewest mistakes — maybe not the fewest errors, but the fewest mistakes,” the Hillsdale baseball coach said in an interview on Thursday.
For six innings Saturday, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard made a few more mistakes and Hillsdale had a decided advantage in the pitching department.
The Hornets (23-10) built a 4-2 lead and needed just three more outs to advance to the regional finals to help alleviate some of the pain from a 2008 regional semifinals loss.
But two errors, a hit batter and three straight run-scoring hits for the Fighting Irish brought Gabriel Richard fans to their feet and sent the Hornets into an emotional tail-spin at the most inopportune time, ultimately sending them home on the wrong side of a 7-4 final score.
“It’s quite possible that we were the better team, and we told the kids that today just wasn’t our day. Unfortunately our mistakes came late and were tougher to overcome,” Adams said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow. The (seniors) are never going to play high school baseball again. I get to come back and coach next year — they don’t, they don’t get a second chance.”
After Hillsdale scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth to break a 2-all tie, on bases-loaded walks to Brad Jenkins and Scott Lantis, Dillon Dirth returned to the mound one final time after allowing just four hits and two runs in the first six innings.
But right away, the Fighting Irish’s nine-hitter Justin Goike got on base thanks to an infield error, Dirth hit Dennis Ostrowski and a wild pitch advanced the runners to second and third.
Nonetheless, Adams stuck by his senior ace, who was 9-0 coming into the game.
“He got out of three (similar situations) in this game. Sometimes something bad has to happen for him to really knuckle down and start pitching,” Adams said. “He did a great job and I really can’t say enough about all of those seniors.”
This time Dirth was not so fortunate.
Nolan Breymaier knocked an RBI single and Conor Dishman drove a pitch to deep right field, where the Hornet fielder lost the ball in the sun and Dishman made it all the way to third base while two runners came home.
The Fighting Irish had their first lead, at 5-4, and Dirth allowed another run, before Lantis came in and allowed an unearned run on a Dirth error.
Lantis for one felt like the Hornets beat themselves.
“Absolutely. We had that game, and it wasn’t one thing or one play, it was a team effort and we couldn’t finish it out,” the senior said. “It’s one thing to flat out get beat by a better team, but I thought we were the better team today and we just couldn’t close it out — we were a couple of outs away there at the end. That’s why it hurts so bad.”
Lantis added that baseball is a “crazy and interesting game…where one bad bounce can cost you” and the Hornets actually took advantage of such things on their state title run in 2007.
While Adams stuck with Dirth through the thick and thin, Gabriel Richard took a different approach.
They used three different pitchers, and starter Chris Ostrowski lasted just two innings before being yanked, after giving up two runs on three hits and two walks.
“Right when we were starting to get to their starter they pulled him and I think that was a great move,” Lantis said. “None of them really threw any off-speed stuff, just fastballs really. That’s why it’s kind of frustrating that we couldn’t put the ball into play more. “
The Hornets did put base runners on in every inning but the seventh, but their “small ball” approach to advance them and put runs on the board stalled out a few times.
Three attempted bunts to put runners in scoring position failed, and they weren’t able to capitalize on nine walks on the day.
“We just didn’t get the big hit today, bottom line….it is what it is,” Adams said.
The Hornets built an early 2-0 lead on RBIs from Charlie Vear and Mitchell Gabriele, on what turned out to be Gabriele’s final hit in a Hillsdale uniform.
Adams said losing the game hurts, but it’s losing guys like Gabriele and Lantis that is the biggest blow.
“You never replace your leaders, but you do find new leaders. You can’t truly replace them though because each kid is different in how they model things and how they lead and we’ve been blessed with two phenomenal leaders in Scott Lantis and Mitchell Gabriele,” he said.
With his Hornet career over, Lantis gave a post-game speech to the underclassmen about continuing the Hornet tradition and keeping their heads up.
“It’s truly just been an honor to be part of the Hornet family for four years. It’s just been amazing and I’m blessed to have all these memories with great people,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to accept it’s over, it’s a difficult thing, but take the life lessons from it and go forth and serve.”