By Larry Moko
The failure to execute a final-inning safety squeeze bunt turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the St. Thomas More Knights.
“Good thing I can’t bunt,” Carter Hand said in jest after fouling off a bunt attempt and then seconds later connecting for a two-run single that lifted More to a 2-1 playoff baseball victory over the St. Mary Crusaders at Bernie Arbour Stadium.
There were runners at third base and second with one out in the bottom of the seventh when Hand’s third hit of the game – a soft liner – narrowly avoided the glove of the backpedalling St. Mary shortstop.
“It worked out,” Hand said. “They told me to try to lay down a bunt to get a run in. I’ve never bunted in a game before. I’m too big. I can’t run down to first. They (his rep teams) usually get me to swing.
“It was an amazing ending.”
The semi-final win advances the Knights to the Oct. 19 Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association high school championship game against either the first-place Bishop Tonnos Titans or the St. John Henry Newman Cardinals.
St. Mary broke open the pitchers’ duel with a run in the top half of the seventh. Leadoff hitter Max Harwood singled, stole second and then crossed the plate on a single by Kalan Bliss.
In St. Thomas More’s final at bat, however, Alex Van Raay drew a leadoff walk. He then took second on a wild pitch by relief pitcher Bryce Sinclair and moved up to third on Zach Pinto’s flared single and stolen base.
That set the stage for Hand’s heroics.
Knights coach Sett Silvestri said the Crusaders were initially playing their third and first basemen back when St. Mary had runners at second and third in the seventh.
“A good bunt would have scored a run,” Silvestri said. “But once they (the St. Mary defence) saw it, they moved in. So we called off the bunt.”
Ethan Pozerowski started on the mound for St. Mary, striking out four and allowing just two hits in his four innings of work. Included in More’s hit total was a long first-inning double by Van Manoukian.
Equally impressive was Knights starting pitcher Van Raay. He struck out seven while allowing just a single by Bliss through four innings. Two hit batsmen and a walk got Van Raay into a jam in the third, however.
“We left the bases loaded a couple of times,” Crusaders coach Lora te Boekhorst said. “That can come back to bite you. It hurt us.
“It was anybody’s game. Exciting. I think we had more opportunities. We just didn’t capitalize.”
Te Boekhorst pointed out that St. Mary began the regular season schedule with a one-sided loss to More. “We lost to that team 11-0 the first time,” she said. “We showed a lot of grit and guts coming back and playing hard today. Our team did phenomenal.
“We wanted it. So we’re disappointed.”
Hand was the winning pitcher. The lefty struck out four, scattered three hits and walked one in his three innings.
“It was close the entire game,” Hand said. “We weren’t expecting their team to be this good, but they played very well.”
St. Mary finished the shortened scheduled with a record of 1-2 while St. Thomas More was 1-1-1. The other semifinal matches Tonnos (3-0) and Newman (0-2-1).