Cole Contigiani (left) and Corey Derosier pose with the Division III runner-up plaque after Saturday's championship game.
Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
June 12, 2017MANCHESTER — It was theirs for the taking.
And then all of a sudden, it was gone.
The Belmont baseball team stood on the precipice of the Division III title on Saturday, having taken a 5-3 lead over top-ranked Campbell in the top of the 10th inning and then turning a nifty 1-4-2 double play to get two outs in the bottom of the inning.
But the Cougars weren't done fighting and that third out never came, as the tying and winning run scored on a throwing error, giving Campbell the 6-5 win in what can only be termed an instant classic.
"You don't go undefeated for no reason," Belmont coach Matt Leblanc said, referencing the Cougars. "But I'm very proud of our team. We matched them stride for stride.
"Up by two, we felt good about it," he continued. "Unfortunately, things didn't bounce our way."
While the loss was tough to take in and of itself, the Raiders had to watch as teammate Doug Price was carted off in an ambulance after a collision at first base on the final play of the game. The throw had gone wide and as he turned to chase it down, he collided with the batter running down the line. Campbell's victory celebration was also muted as both teams took a knee on the infield while the medical staff came to Price's aid.
"I feel for these guys," Leblanc said. "They have graduation in a couple of hours and they're concerned for their friend.
"Dougie tried to make a play," Leblanc said. "He's a hell of a kid and he tried to make a play like he has all year."
Belmont wasted little time getting on the board in the top of the first inning. Chris Marden worked a one-out walk and one out later, Cole Contigiani was hit by a pitch. Cam Magerer came through with a base hit to drive in Marden with the first run of the game and Belmont took the lead.
Campbell answered right back, using a walk, a stolen base and a base hit to plate a run in the bottom of the inning, but pitcher Corey Derosier held them to just that one run.
After the Raiders went in order in the top of the second, Campbell took its first lead of the game. With two outs, an infield hit, a walk and a base hit produced the second run for the Cougars but Derosier got a strikeout to end the inning and strand another two runners.
Belmont went in order again in the top of the third inning and in the bottom of the inning, Derosier worked around a base hit, getting a strikeout to end the inning. Matt Pluskis also made a leaping grab of a line drive at second base.
Belmont pulled even in the top of the fourth inning. Contigiani was hit by a pitch again and Magerer followed with another base hit. A perfect sacrifice bunt by Kyle Minery moved both runners up and then Pluskis grounded to short, scoring Contigiani with the tying run.
Campbell went in order in the bottom of the inning and both teams went in order in the fifth as the score remained tied at two.
The Raiders took the lead again in the top of the sixth inning. Price worked a walk to open the inning and then for the third time, Contigiani was hit by a pitch. Magerer delivered his third hit of the game and then Minery put down a perfect squeeze bunt, plating Price and giving Belmont the lead. However, they were unable to capitalize with any more runs and in the bottom of the inning Campbell tied the game.
The Cougars got a base hit, a sacrifice bunt and another base hit to tie the game at third, but a 6-3 double play ended the inning, as Colby Brown snared a line drive and fired to first to double off the runner, who was off on contact and never went back to the base.
Belmont had a chance to take the lead in the top of the seventh with two outs, as Marden had a base hit to left and Price reached on an error. Marden stole third, but both runners were stranded. Derosier retired Campbell in order in the bottom of the seventh and the teams headed to extra innings tied at three.
Belmont went in order in the top of the eighth and it appeared the Cougars might take the win in the bottom of the inning, but the defense again came through. After an error to open the inning, Pluskis made a nice play on a grounder in the hole at second, forcing the lead runner at second. After a stolen base, Leblanc opted to walk the next batter to set up a force and the plan worked perfectly, as Derosier started a double play to end the inning.
Belmont had a great chance in the top of the ninth inning, as Johnny LeClair led off with a walk and stole second. Brown beat out a bunt and he stole second. One out later, the Cougars intentionally walked Marden and Price followed with a shot that appeared destined for the left centerfield gap. However, Campbell's center fielder made a diving catch and then fired to second to double off the Raider runner and end the inning with the score still tied.
Derosier set Campbell down in order in the bottom of the inning, recording two strikeouts in what would be his last full inning of work.
His team then got him the lead in the top of the 10th inning. Contigiani worked a walk to open the inning and Magerer followed with a base hit. Minery blooped a hit into left but the Cougars were able to force Contigiani at third for the inning's first out. Pluskis was then hit by a pitch to load the bases and Tom Bickford took over at third base for Magerer. LeClair then came through with the clutch base hit and both Bickford and Minery crossed the plate, putting Belmont up 5-3.
Derosier started the bottom of the inning and walked the first batter while reaching his pitch limit. Sophomore Griffin Embree took over on the hill and promptly started the normal 1-3-2 double play. The Cougars attempted a bunt and Embree fielded the ball and threw to Price at first for the out. With Contigiani charging from third on the play, Campbell's coach saw third open and waved his runner toward the open base. However, Magerer also saw third open and raced up the line, taking Price's throw and slapping the tag on for the second out of the inning.
The next batter tripled to the fence in center field and then a wild pitch cut the lead to 5-4. After a stolen base, Leblanc opted to intentionally walk the next hitter to set up a force play. The next batter was able to work a walk to load the bases.
Then, the bouncer toward third had the Raiders ready to celebrate but the throw went wide, Price went down and the winning runs scored, giving the Cougars the walk-off 6-5 win.
"We left it all on the field today," Leblanc said. "We were in a position to win the game and we left it on the field.
"There's nothing else we could've done," the Belmont coach continued.
He also praised the work of Campbell coach Jim Gorham, who is stepping down after many years on the sidelines.
"Jim's a great coach," Leblanc said. "We have great respect for him, you want to play against the best and he's one of the best."
At the same time, Leblanc also couldn't say enough about his team.
"I wouldn't trade this team for anyone in the state," he said.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.