Austin Schnabel had his pitches working but needed a little luck to give Notre Dame its first baseball state title.
The Saints starter allowed just two hits to Division II's defending-champion Phoenix Sunnyslope in Tuesday's title game, but it was a long fly ball that had everyone holding their breath.
With one out in the bottom of the seventh and Notre Dame clinging to a 2-1 lead, Sunnyslope first baseman Royal Love hit a long shot to left center.
However, the state championship is played in a major league park – Camelback Ranch in Glendale – and Ditroia tracked down the ball, brushing up against the fence more than 400 feet from home plate and the Saints shut down a potent Sunnyslope lineup in a 2-1 victory.
“When he hit that, I was a little scared,” Schnabel said. “But with Jimmy (Ditroia) out in center field and knowing that this was a big field, I knew he was going to catch it.”
At least, in this park.
“That fly ball was hit really far,” Ditroia said. “He got a lot of that but I was on it the whole time.”
But what if the game had been played at Notre Dame?
“That’s out of the park,” Ditroia said. “It’s a good thing it was here (at Camelback Ranch), I was under that ball.”
Striking out eight and allowing just three baserunners all night, Schnabel was dominant.
“This is incredible,” Schnabel said. “This is the best feeling I have ever felt. To come back after last year and be able to lead my team through the playoffs and win this – it’s awesome.”
A year ago, Notre Dame was eliminated from the Division II tournament early despite its No. 2 seed. This year, as a No. 3 seed, the Saints lost their first double-elimination game and had to win four loser’s bracket games to reach the final.
When Schnabel got Chet Gleason to ground out to Cooper Samples at second, the Vikings (28-5) were vanquished and the Saints (30-7) had their state title. Notre Dame had been in the Class 4A-II state championship game three straight years, 2007-2009, losing all three times.
Not this time.
“I felt in the zone tonight,” said Schnabel. “Everything was working for me. I was able to locate my pitches low, which I have been working on all playoffs but tonight everything really came together for me.”
The third-seeded Saints got all the runs they needed in the second and third innings. Duncan Morfitt singled to right and Hunter Bross followed with a double down the left line to put Notre Dame ahead 1-0. That led off the second but Thomas Lehman then bunted in the air, which Sunnyslope starter Cody Bergkamp (4-1) caught and then doubled Bross off second.
In the third, Kobe Foppe singled, stole second and went to third on a balk by Bergkamp. With two out, Ryan Scott drove in Foppe with a single and Notre Dame wouldn’t have another threat. Bergkamp allowed one hit over the final four innings and no runners reached second.
But with Schnabel dealing, Notre Dame held on. After giving up a run in the fourth, Schnabel retired eight in a row until Casey Bowman singled to open the seventh. Ryan Oberg became the eighth strikeout for Schnabel and then he got the final two outs for the complete game.
“Our team believed this was his game to win,” Notre Dame coach Brian Fischer said of Schnabel. “Certainly we were riding him. He did better than I thought he would in a big game like this.”
The only threat came in fourth. After retiring the first 10 that came to the plate, Schnabel walked Calvin Lebrun. Bowman followed with a clean single up the middle, putting Lebrun on third. Schnabel said on the next batter he let one get away, and threw it into the dirt so catcher Ryan Scott couldn’t come up with it, and Lebrun scored. Schnabel got a flyout and a strikeout to end the inning and didn’t allow another baserunner until the seventh-inning single.
He got some sparkling plays behind him, including a good play by Scott to throw out Hunter Martin on a bunt in front of the plate in the sixth. Third baseman Devin Young made a solid bare-handed play on the next batter to keep Sunnyslope at bay.
The Vikings came in averaging 8.5 runs per game this season but did not have an answer for Schnabel on this night, and the one rebuttal they thought they had was taken away.
“He hit it hard,” Notre Dame coach Brian Fischer said. “But Jimmy can run down anything, he has done it for us for the last two years.”