White’s timely grand slam propels STAB to state title game

Well he was due. Having struggled in his three previous at bats, Michigan bound St. Anne’s-Belfield slugger Kevin White took to the plate in the bottom of the sixth with the bases juiced and his team trailing by a run. He saw five pitches. With the count 1-2, White was able to lay off of a pitch out of the zone. The next pitch was in his wheel house and the senior put the sweetest part of the barrel on the ball to send it soaring over the left-center fence in Shepherd Field in Colonial Heights.

Reliever Matt Morris had all he needed to close the deal for the Saints in the seventh. Just like that STAB earned its ticket to the VISAA Division 1 state championship game with a 7-5 victory over Cape Henry Collegiate with everyone run being scored with two outs for the Saints.

“This team knows what they’re doing up there,” said STAB coach Alan Swanson. “They’re relaxed at the plate. Their coach might not be relaxed, but they are. They have fun and enjoy the game. That’s the thing, they came here to have fun and they did. “

STAB had seven hits on the day, but it wasn’t until the fourth inning that it was able to get to Dolphins starter Sean Poppen. After Josh Gibson earned a walk with two outs, junior Brett Johnson homered to left field to make it 2-0 STAB.

“He was leaving the fastballs low and away,” Johnson said. “He left one over the plate and I put a pretty good swing on it.”

Cape Henry responded in the top of the fifth to take the lead. The Dolphins only had two hits in the inning, but an RBI single from Tyler Ramirez paired with a 2-run double from Colin Ballard and a bases loaded walk put the visiting team out in front 4-2.

In the bottom of the fifth Sheldon Shifflett’s leadoff double allowed STAB to chip away at the deficit. Shifflett moved to third on a single from Brian Yeagle before tagging home on a sacrifice fly from David Spinosa.

Morris settled in in the top of sixth to retire the side in order to set up the dramatic performance in the bottom half of the inning.

With one out, Charley Murray was able to reach base on a single through the infield. An error then put John Siciliano on too. Shifflett was thrown four straight balls to load bases. It was potentially White’s last high school at bat. He made sure it wasn’t though.

“I struggled the whole game but I owe it to these guys — my teammates picked me up,” White said. “That last inning there the bases were loaded and there were two outs and I was in the hole with two strikes. I tried to but the bat on the ball and make something good happen and hit a grand slam. That’s all you could ask for. It was a hanging curveball that he left over the plate. It was an exhilarating feeling. It’s the kind of place that everyone wants to be in in this situation. I’m just grateful that it was me.”

For Swanson the come-from-behind win was almost difficult to watch. Almost. The Saints lost a hard fought game last year in the semifinals to Benedictine, so he knows the feeling.

“I like that team a lot,” Swanson said. “I like (Poppen) a lot. He did a very good job. He throws one bad pitch to Kevin and it’s kind of a heartbreaker. He did very well for them.”

Cape Henry Collegiate was the team that beat Covenant in the Division 2 championship last year. The Dolphins made STAB earn their runs, and were it not for White’s big swing, the play of the game would have belonged to Ramirez in centerfield as he absolutely robbed Johnson in the sixth from an extra base hit with an impressive diving catch.

Murray, the starting pitcher earned a no decision in the contest, but threw four and a third innings. Murray worked himself out of a three straight jams. With runners on first and second and no outs in the second, Murray drew two pop fly outs and a ground out to escape without damage. With the bases loaded and one out, a ground out to home and a strike out allowed him to wiggle out unharmed again. Cape Henry again put runners on first and second in the fourth, this time with two outs but once again Murray kept them from scoring.

Morris came in the fourth and walked in a run, but didn’t give up much after that to earn the win. He was perfect in the sixth and allowed only one hit after that, a solo shot from Ballard in the seventh.

STAB will play the winner of Paul VI and last year’s defending Division 1 champs, Benedictine. The game will be played on Saturday in Colonial Heights at 5 p.m. For the eight seniors that make up the Saints roster, it’s perfect that their last high school baseball game comes in the last game of the season.

“We’ve kind of had that chip on our shoulder from last year’s experience,” White said. “Last year we were in this same situation and got knocked off with a couple of errors.  But this year, we really have that chip on our shoulder and that extra push.”

STAB last won a state title in 2006.