Initially, it looked to be one of the great catches one could ever expect to see at a high school baseball game.
Instead, it turned out to be a key extra base hit for home team Stone Bridge in its 10-3 Liberty District baseball win over South Lakes last Friday night.
The play in question occurred in the bottom of the fifth inning when, with the score tied at 3-3, Stone Bridge batter Johnny Bladel, the first hitter in the Bulldogs’ half of the inning, sent a deep fly ball into center field.
South Lakes center fielder Noah Sweet, a senior, broke back for the ball. It looked as if the outfielder would have no chance for a play as the ball kept sailing towards the fence. But Sweet, running with his back towards the infield, then appeared to reach out for the ball as it neared its descent.
The ball, from the vantage point of where the fans sit in the bleachers behind home plate, appeared to be caught. But following a short conference between the game’s two umpires– the plate and field umps– it was ruled that Sweet had not made the catch.
South Lakes coach Galvin Morris was adamant, and went out to talk to the umpires as South Lakes players and fans voiced their opinions of the call.
But, as is usually the case, the umpires’ call stood and Bladel was awarded a double.
That, as it turned out, opened the floodgates for Stone Bridge, which went on to bat around and score six runs in the fifth to effectively put the game away.
What had been a tie game was, just like that, a lopsided affair. And, naturally, the long hit into center field and the ensuing call that was made sparked controversy.
"I thought he caught the ball," said Morris, in a phone interview the following day. "[Noah] said he caught the ball. That took the air out of us."
But Morris was not about to make that one play an excuse for the reason the underdog Seahawks went on to lose the game to Stone Bridge, one of the Northern Region’s premier teams.
"We still have to hit the ball," said Morris, indicating that the Seahawks still didn’t score any more runs the remainder of the game. "[The umpires] are human and they make mistakes. Stone Bridge is a good baseball team."
Stone Bridge coach Sam Plank was impressed with the fact that Sweet was even able to get back to the ball.
"For him to even get back was unbelievable," said Plank. "To me, when it hit the ground, it looked like it rolled out. It was hard to tell. I understand how it would be frustrating to Galvin."
<b>FOLLOWING BLADEL’S</b> controversial double, the junior left fielder advanced to third base on a bunt single by Mike Stancik. Then, Patrick Thompson, Stone Bridge’s junior first baseman, lifted a two-run single into right center field. The base hit likely would have been a double, but Thompson slipped around the first base area and settled for the single. Nevertheless, two runs scored and the Bulldogs had a 5-3 lead with no outs.
From that point on in the inning, the Bulldogs continued to hit. Michael Prince doubled, Collin Pearson knocked a groundball, RBI single into right field, DH Bryce Williams singled home two more runs and Matt Irwin hit a sacrifice fly to make it 9-3.
South Lakes never could get back into the game.
Stone Bridge starting pitcher Tyler Basso earned the win. The senior right hander threw five innings, allowing three runs and three hits while striking out six and walking one.
Basso’s only real trouble came in the top of the third when South Lakes catcher Scott Reed, with his team trailing 3-0, sent a towering home run down the left field line and well over the fence. The three-run blast came with two outs and tied the game at 3-3.
Morris said Reed, on the homer, turned on an inside pitch. He said the senior hit a similar pitch for a homer earlier this season in a win over Jefferson.
"You’ve got to be able to hit that pitch on the inner half of the plate," said Morris.
Plank was impressed with the four-bagger.
"Reed is a very talented baseball player," said Plank. "We hung a change-up and he made us pay for it. You can’t make mistakes against a good hitter like that."
Plank said Basso gave his team a good outing.
"He battled out there," said the coach. "He left the ball up a little bit. Not every night are you going to have your `A’ game."
<b>TWO GAMES EARLIER</b>, Stone Bridge had lost its first district game of the season against McLean. But the Bulldogs came back to win big over Jefferson, 14-3, on April 24 before winning over South Lakes the next night.
"I think we’re playing the best baseball we have all year," said Stone Bridge senior catcher Brian Wheaton. "We’re playing team ball. The pitching has picked up the [offense] when we’re not hitting well. We actually responded really well to the loss [to McLean]. We realize we’re not an unbeatable team [in the district]."
Wheaton said his team knew it was in a ball game when Reed smacked his homer.
"There was a little sense of urgency," he said.
Plank said his team, which has just two losses all season, always works hard. He loves that about his club.
"This team always comes ready to practice or to play a ball game," he said. "They hate losing."
Stone Bridge’s Basso, hitting in the No. 2 spot in the Bulldogs’ line-up, had three hits in the win over South Lakes. Meanwhile, Bladel and Irwin both had two hits. South Lakes got base hits from Reed, clean-up hitting shortstop Andrew Thomas-Calvo, freshman third baseman Will Sweet and freshman Wilfredo Corps-Ortiz.