The Hornets are headed back to Battle Creek.
Saline defeated Livonia Stevenson 5-1 in Tuesday’s MHSAA Division 1 quarterfinal at the University of Michigan’s Ray Fisher Stadium to advance to the final weekend of the high school baseball season for the fourth time in five years.
Saline will play Hudsonville in the semifinal at Nichols Field at 1 p.m. Friday. Warren DeLaSalle and Howell play in the other Division 1 semifinal at noon at Morrison Field. The Division 1 championship game is at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Bailey Park.
In Livonia Stevenson, the Hornets faced their toughest opponent of the post-season. Senior Brent Vaccaro earned the win, pitching seven innings, scattering six hits and striking out seven without a walk.
Vaccaro’s biggest test came in the top of the fifth inning with the game tied 1-1. With one out, Vaccaro hit Jacob Semack with a pitch. Michael Vomastek reached base on an infield single. Travis Harvey loaded the bases with one out with a bloop single over third.
Vaccaro wasn't fazed.
"I didn't walk a kid all day so I wasn't worried about walking that kid there. It was business as usual," said Vaccaro. "I wanted to keep the first kid from putting the ball in play and get the next kid out."
That's exactly what he did, striking out Christopher McDonald and retiring the next hitter with a fly ball to Austin Hauck at short.
Getting out of that jam was huge for the Hornets.
"That was clutch. He's done it for us all year. We just expect that from him," said centerfield Gage Hammond.
“We made a few mistakes behind (Vaccaro). Really, he didn't get himself into that jam. We felt comfortable that he was going and going well," said coach Scott Theisen.
Getting out of that jam fired up the Hornets.
Justin Goike walked to lead off the bottom of the inning. Andrew White singled to rightfield to put runners on first and second. Sophomore Michael Hendrickson smacked a single down the third base line to score courtesy runner Brandon Gordon for what stood to be the game winning RBI. The Hornets added another run with two outs and the bases loaded when White was caught in a run down between third and home. The catcher’s throw back to third bounced into leftfield and White sprinted home for the 3-1 lead.
“They had a little momentum coming back. We got the bases loaded with one out and got out of it and then we scored two quickly. That was huge," said Theisen. "We got out of it and they didn't."
Vaccaro never let a Stevenson hitter sniff first base, retiring the side in the sixth and seventh.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Hornets added a couple more runs. Stefan Hastings led off with a single to the right-centerfield gap and stole second. Hammond put runners on the corners with a bunt single. Trent Theisen’s line out to center allowed Hastings to score. Hammond came around to score on Haucks’ triple to the wall in left-centerfield.
The Hornets began the game in promising fashion. Hammond nearly put one out of the park in the Hornets’ first at bat. His drive smashed against the Barry Larkin sign on the wall in left-centerfield for a double.
“I saw the ball great today. I was just out there doing what I've got to do, getting dirty, seeing the ball and getting the bat out there," Hammond said.
He scored on a two-out single past third by White. The Hornets had several chances to build on their lead. In the second, AJ Korzuck walked to lead off and took second on a bunt by Patrick Price. Hastings walked to put two on. Hammond smashed a line drive right at the centerfield and Theisen struck out to end the threat.
In the third, Goike reached base on an infield single. He moved to second on a two-out single by Hendrickson. The Hornets looked like they might have a rally going when Korzuck’s grounder ate up the Stevenson shortstop, who recovered and threw out Hendrickson at second in what was a questionable ruling.
Stevenson got on the board in the top of the fourth. McDonald led off with a single. Vaccaro retired the next hitter when catcher Pat Price made a terrific diving catch on a foul ball behind the plate. The runner tagged and took second. The next hitter was retired on a running catch by Hastings in leftfield. Stevenson’s Mike Kanitra followed with a grounder up the middle. Second basemen White fielded the ball but threw it away and McDonald rounded third and scored to tie the game. In the bottom of the fourth, the Hornets nearly pulled ahead, but the inning ended when Hastings was gunned down at the plate by the Stevenson rightfielder on a line drive single by Theisen.
The Hornets now move on to Battle Creek for the fourth time in five years.
"It feels awesome to be going to Battle Creek. For most of us, it's our first time," Vaccaro said.
"Going to Battle Creek has been one of our goals from the beginning. We're there now. Now we just have to fight and keep going," he said.