Cinderella SH baseball pulls upset over No. 4 D-NH
DIKE — There were multiple times when Zeke Balderas could have succumbed to the pressure Tuesday night.
When he balked for the first time and stared at two Dike-New Hartford base runners in the fourth inning, that could have been his undoing. But it wasn’t.
When he issued a walk, was tagged with another balk, and eventually offered up two more free passes to load the bases in the sixth inning, that easily could have spiraled out of control. But it didn’t.
Time and time again, South Hamilton’s gritty sophomore right-hander stared heartbreak in the eyes and didn’t blink. And when all was said and done, it was the Wolverines who shuffled off the diamond, their diamond, wishing more than anything for a do-over.
The longest of long shots before Balderas ever toed the rubber, South Hamilton defied the odds and stunned everyone in attendance, their fans included, by taking down fourth-ranked Dike-New Hartford, 2-0, in a Class 2A District 13 semifinal.
“I woke up (Tuesday) morning knowing that we were the underdogs and they were looking to clean us up,” Balderas said. “But during the game, it was unreal. I just unleashed it. I felt good.”
Up next for South Hamilton will be a date with West Marshall (28-6) in the district final Saturday evening at 7 p.m. The game was originally scheduled to take place back in Dike, but was moved to the Trojans’ home field in State Center.
Balderas was just one of the Hawks’ heroes. He went six innings on the bump and limited the Wolverines to just three hits en route to the victory. With more than 100 pitches on his tired wing, he handed the ball off to Cole Berg in the seventh, who promptly worked himself out of a dangerous situation with three strikeouts to pick up the save.
“I was just hoping that I didn’t blow it for my team,” Berg said after he fanned Ethan Weichers on a full count for the final out as runners stood on first and third. “This is huge for us. We put together a complete game.”
That’s become a trend for South Hamilton (10-18) in recent weeks. The Hawks ran their win streak to five games and turned in their third shutout in their last four outings.
How many shutouts did they have in their initial 24 contests? A big, fat goose egg.
“It’s a big win for the program,” South Hamilton head coach Kyle Galetich said. “Just to see the people here and the excitement … hopefully this is something we can take to the next level. But whether we won or lost, I would still feel the same way about these guys. They played their tails off and Zeke pitched his tail off.”
The Hawks needed to flirt with perfection, particularly defensively, and that’s exactly what they did. Balderas and Berg combined for only five strikeouts, but they received flawless help. Deep fly balls, towering pop-ups, hard-hit grounders — South Hamilton snared them all and played error-free.
D-NH (27-5) connected for just four hits and stranded nine runners on base. Down two runs, the Wolverines brought the meat of their order up in the sixth. The momentum appeared to shift when they loaded the bases, but Balderas bared down and got Collin Vanderlind to ground out to his brother, Mateo, at second to end the threat.
Zeke Balderas let out a deep breathe as he trotted off the field. Was it relief or excitement?
“Both,” he said.
Berg was greeted by a towering shot into the gap in left-center that resulted in a lead-off triple for Nick Durnin in the bottom of the seventh. But the Hawks’ reliever never wavered and kept Durnin handcuffed to the base 90 feet from the plate.
“I was so proud of the way Cole came in and pitched because that was such a tough situation,” Galetich said. “Those final three outs are always the toughest to get.”
South Hamilton applied the pressure right out of the gate. A walk to DJ Klonglan and back-to-back base hits by Cole Ellis and Blake Barquist loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning. But Durnin, the Wolverines’ southpaw starter, wiggled out trouble.
The Hawks put two more runners on in the second, but again came up empty.
They finally broke through in the third. After Ellis drew a lead-off walk, Zeke Balderas put a jolt into a Durnin offering and sent it into the gap in left-center for a RBI double. CJ Hewitt followed with a blast to center for a RBI single to give South Hamilton the two-run cushion.
“I just love hitting,” Zeke Balderas said. “I thought I was going to pop-up again (like he did with the bases loaded in the first inning), but I was just tired of that. I took it on a ride.”
South Hamilton handed Durnin his first loss of the season. He entered with a 6-0 record and 0.73 ERA, but was run off the mound after three innings.
The Hawks finished with six hits by six different players. Mateo Balderas lashed a single in the second frame and Klonglan reached on a bunt single in the seventh.
Oozing confidence, South Hamilton will look to pull another upset in the district final against a West Marshall team that rolled in a doubleheader over the Hawks, 15-0 and 13-3, back on June 27. The Hawks have not lost since.
“We’ll be ready,” Zeke Balderas said. “We’ll have the mindset to play (West Marshall) and hopefully win it.”
South Hamilton 2, Dike-NH 0
Class 2A District 13 Semifinal
Tuesday at Dike
S. Hamilton 002 000 0 — 2 6 0
Dike-NH 000 000 0 — 0 4 3
Zeke Balderas, Cole Berg (7) and CJ Hewitt. Nick Durnin, Collin Vanderlind (4) and Trent Johnson. W — Balderas. L — Durnin. S — Berg. 2B — SH: Z. Balderas. 3B — D-NH: Durnin. RBI — SH: Z. Balderas, Hewitt.