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BASEBALL: Northwest unable to come up with the clutch hit, fall 2-1 in quarterfinal to Merrill

Crusaders fall one game short of Final Four dreams

Game Info

Baseball - 6/14/2011 

Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest 1
Merrill 2

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SAGINAW — Eric Mischley stood in the on deck circle nearly four minutes after the conclusion of Tuesday’s Division 4 baseball state quarterfinal, his batting helmet still neatly tucked on his head in disbelief.

The senior from Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest saved his best for last, firing a three-hitter with a career-high 16 strikeouts. Yet, it wasn’t enough for Mischley and the Crusaders, and Mischley’ stomach was in a pit.

Northwest, playing in its fourth state quarterfinal in eight years, succumbed to unranked, Merrill, 2-1, in a contest played at Saginaw Valley State University, ending its Final Four dreams one game short.

“I wanted to win this really bad, more than anything,” he said. “I pitched a good game, but we couldn’t get the (timely) hit.”

Merrill advances to the state semifinals for the first time in school history and will play at noon Friday at Battle Creek’s Bailey Park against fifth-ranked Frankfort. Northwest finishes the year 15-11 and left wondering what might have happened if the Crusaders could have mustered a couple of more clutch hits.

Engaged in a pitcher’s duel with Mischley, Jimmy Schoof fired a two-hitter on his own for Merrill, and the Delta College signee struck out five and yielded no earned runs. The Vandals’ defense committed seven errors behind him, but still escaped by giving up just one run in the bottom of the fifth.

“We made the plays when we had to,” said Merrill coach Dave DeBeau. “Jimmy (Schoof) gave us a shot.”

Trailing 2-0 entering the fifth, Northwest cut the deficit in half when Joshua Morrison singled, stole second, advanced to third on an error and scored on a fielder’s choice, where Chad Cook also reached base on an errant throw to the bag.

Schoof (8-2) got Mischley to chop into a double play at third base to end the threat in the fifth.

Northwest put two on base in the sixth before Schoof ended the frame with two punchouts. Schoof came in and pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning to end the game.

Merrill cashed in twice on a pair of unearned runs, one each in the first and third innings and never trailed.

Merrill scored in a rare fashion in the top of the first. After Mischley gunned down the first two batters, Merrill’s Brandon Mudry reached base after passed ball on a third strike. The next batters walked and singled, respectively, and Mudry scored on another passed ball.

In the top of the third, Merrill struck again. Mudry doubled, moved to third on a groundout then plated on a passed ball.

“We had our chances and we gave them two runs,” said Northwest coach Mario Borrocci. “We left a lot of runners on base and couldn’t get that clutch hit.

“I am partial to my guys and I am partial to Eric Mischley. Give Mischley credit because he’s as tough as they come. If I’m a college recruiter I’d pick him up in a minute,” continued Borrocci. “I feel bad for him because we gave up to unearned runs. He’s a great kid and pitched well for us all season. He just didn’t get the run support.”

“You have to give their pitcher credit, too,” continued Borrocci. “He kept the ball down and didn’t give us much to hit.”

Northwest, which made a surprise run after a third-place finish in its conference, finished the year 15-11 with its first district and regional championships in five years. The Crusaders also reached the quarterfinals in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

“I’m proud of my kids. To know where we were a few weeks ago to where we are now is a credit to the kids, said Borrocci. “We couldn’t practice and play on our field for the first month and had a really slow start. But we really started to come on in the past few weeks, hitting the ball better and getting some great pitching."

For Merrill, a Division 4 school playing in Tri-Valley Conference, a league of mostly D-2 and D-3 schools, the Vandals will be new to the Final Four experience but very much battle-tested playing larger schools. Merrill won its first district this season and 10 years and captured its first-ever regional championship and state quarterfinals win this season.

“I knew when these kids were in little league that they could be good (when they got to high school) and I knew before the season started that they could have a chance,” said DeBeau. “We were only 7-7 in our league but we’ve played some very good teams, a lot of D-3 and D-2 schools with strong baseball teams. We talked about this at our all-region meeting the last night. I think that has prepared us for (this run).”

Schoof had to overcome an array of botched ground balls and throwing errors in the contest, yet retired the final five batters he faced.

“I’ve had my faith in my teammates all season. We’ve been making plays in practice all season,” said Schoof, who could not explain how his team recorded seven errors but still came out on top. We’ve been playing together since little league. I love these guys. We’re excited about going to play at Bailey Park.”

In a season of close games, Merrill came through on its biggest stage to date.

“This is what we’ve been able to do all year. We got a couple of timely hits, scored a couple of runs and then our pitching does the rest,” said DeBeau. “(Schoof) has given us three great performances, in his district game, in the regional finals — he pitched a shutout in the regional final — and we felt that if we didn’t have errors he could have had another shutout today,” said DeBeau of Schoof. “He’s been the leader of this team all season.”

Last Updated: 6/15/2011 1:05:43 PM EST

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