Down a run in a game they had to have, the Kent All-Stars dramatically pulled one out to play for another day.
Patrick Sanchez drilled a walk-off, two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning, lifting Kent past Fife-Milton-Edgewood (FME)/Steel Lake 3-2 in a Majors Division District 10 semifinal playoff game at Auburn’s Sunset Park on Thursday night.
Kent advances to play rival Auburn, defending district champion, in the championship game at noon Saturday at Sunset Park. Kent, which lost to Auburn 2-1 earlier in the double-elimination tournament, needs to win to force a second, winner-take-all game Saturday. Game 2, if needed, will start around 3 p.m.
Rain scrubbed the original 6 p.m. Friday start to Game 1.
FME/Steel Lake’s season came to an end.
At stake for Kent is pride and an elusive state berth. Kent hasn’t been to state for several seasons.
“Auburn’s a good team, without a doubt. It’s going to be tough to get through them,” said Kent manager Ernie Hernandez. “They have great pitching … great team. We know them. We played against them for the last three years through summer ball. … Good athletes over there. It’s going to be very competitive. It’s going to come down to pitching and defense.”
Against FME/Steel Lake, it came down to a swing of a bat.
After Zachary Hernandez led off with a single to right, Sanchez stepped to the plate to rip a line-drive shot that carried about 260 feet over the left-field fence. After trotting around the bases, teammates mobbed Sanchez at home plate.
“Very strong kid,” Ernie Hernandez said of his standout shortstop. “He’s been (hitting home runs) during the regular season, and his bat’s been hot throughout this whole tournament with a lot of base hits, line drives … as you can see.”
Kent put up two runs during a walk-filled first inning, but FME/Steel Lake scored two of its own to even it up.
Kent had its chances, leaving the bases loaded in the fourth and stranding two more base runners in the fifth.
Miles Ducharme beat out an infield single, scoring Eli Nordling from third base to give FME/Steel Lake a 2-1 lead in the sixth.
“My hat’s off to these guys here. Incredible. They played their heart out,” Ernie Hernandez said of FME/Steel Lake. “In my opinion, they probably could have won this game. Luckily, we had the last up (to bat).”
Earlier in the tournament, Auburn defeated FME/Steel Lake 17-3 on Tuesday in a battle of unbeatens.