BATTLE CREEK, Michigan — Bedford was within striking range of winning a state baseball championship Saturday, but the Kicking Mules’ dream season was agonizingly spoiled one win short by a late comeback by Rockford.
Trailing 4-3 lead with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Rams (32-6) rallied for two runs, then held on for a 5-4 victory in the Michigan Division 1 state final at C.O. Brown Stadium.
“They battled every second, every pitch, just like we have all year,” Bedford coach Craig Trychel said of his team. “It’s just one of those things where [Rockford] got a couple key hits when they had to, and they were just a little bit better than we were today.
“If a break would’ve went our way earlier, maybe it would’ve been a different outcome. But today it was their day.”
Mules left-handed senior pitcher Trent Szkutnik was uncharacteristically wild throughout six innings, but showed poise in battling through several jams before the Rams finally cashed in.
After Szkutnik (13-2) had retired Rockford’s No. 8 and 9 batters to open the sixth, he walked leadoff hitter Drew Farmer, his sixth walk of the game to go with two hit batsmen.
Following Brandon Nostrant’s single to left on a 2-1 pitch, the effects of fatigue and the game of inches caught up with Szkutnik.
He had a 2-2 count on Shain Showers, who had earlier blasted a solo home run to left field in the third inning to put the Rams on top 2-1.
This time Showers hit a sinking fly to right field, which Mules outfielder Aaron Mills dived for but just missed on what would’ve been the third out. Had Mills secured the out, Bedford (36-7) would have taken a lead to the top of the seventh.
“Tony Dileo and Shain Showers, they’ve been clutch all year,” Rams coach Ian Hearn said. “Those are the guys that you want in those types of situations. They’ve been big hitters for us all year.”
The University of Michigan-bound lefty ended with 125 pitches (64 strikes) after working seven innings in a regional final the prior Saturday, seven innings in a 3-2 state-quarterfinal win over Detroit Western International on Tuesday, and an inning of relief to close Bedford’s 10-5 state semifinal win at the Bailey Park complex on Friday.
“I felt all right,” Szkutnik said. “It just wasn’t my day. That game’s on me. That’s really all there is to say. Sorry Bedford, that was my game and I took it out of my hands.
“I knew what I was doing. I wasn’t following through. I kept trying to find it but I just couldn’t. It was just one of those days. It was just a shame it had to come in this game.”
“I thought Trent was going to get out of that, and we had Jackson [Lamb] ready if we needed him in the seventh,” Trychel said. “But they got a couple of key hits at the right moment, and they were able to come through with a couple key runs there to finish us off.”
Trychel said he thought Szkutnik might have been “too pumped up” at the start, but the pitcher himself said he was actually calm.
“I felt good going in,” Szkutnik said, “but that’s the game of baseball. You never know what you’re going to get until you’re on the field.
“The fatigue was there, but that’s not the reason. I wasn’t able to find my fastball or locate my pitches. I couldn’t find the strike zone the first couple innings.”
Szkutnik escaped trouble in the bottom of the first after walking Rockford’s first three batters on a total of 14 pitches. The Rams tied the game in the second after Ian Stankus was hit by a Szkutnik pitch and eventually scored on Farmer’s two-out single to center.
After Showers’ homer put Rockford on top in the third, Bedford tied the game in the fourth.
Second baseman Zach Mayo drilled a two-out triple to the gap in left-center and scored on designated hitter Mike Blake’s clutch bad-hop single past Rams’ first baseman Matt Boonstra.
The Mules then rallied for two runs in the fifth to grab a 4-2 lead.
Lamb, who was 3 for 4 in both the state semifinal and final games, opened with an infield single to short. After shortstop Dan Przeniczny bunted him to second, Lamb scored on Szkutnik’s double to the wall in left field. Courtesy runner Zach Mills then scored on Kuhr’s opposite-field double past Nostrant at third.
“It’s too bad,” Lamb said. “It’s what we worked for all season. For it to come down like this, with a couple of close calls … we hit the ball great today, and we played our game. We just fell I guess.”
Pileo tripled to center leading off the Rockford fifth, and scored when a balk was called on Szkutnik (eight stikeouts), who had surrendered just three hits in the game at that point.
Bedford’s tournament finish was the best in school history for a Mules baseball team, and closed a three-year run that saw the team post a 107-15 overall record (38-3, 33-5, and 36-7) and reach the state final four twice.
The 2009 Mules fell in the D-1 state semifinals.
In defeat, Bedford outhit the Rams 8-6.
Rockford’s Austin Stephens, who reliever fellow lefty Kropiewnicki with one out in the Bedford fifth, worked the final 2 2/3 innings to earn the victory.
He hit Aaron Mills with a pitch with one out in the seventh, then got Mayo on a fly to right, and fanned catcher Troy Przybylek on a 3-2 pitch to end the game.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com or 419-724-6461.