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This story was updated with additional details and postgame reaction.
The Saline High School baseball team is Battle Creek-bound for the fourth time in five years.
Senior pitcher Brent Vaccaro threw a complete-game five-hitter, sophomore Michael Hendrickson had a game-winning RBI double and the Hornets -- state runners-up in 2008, 2009 and 2010 -- beat Livonia Stevenson 5-1 in a Division 1 quarterfinal Tuesday at the University of Michigan’s Ray Fisher Stadium.
“Once I got two strikes, you got to shorten up and try to take it to right,“ Hendrickson said of his game-winning hit in the fifth inning. “(Stevenson reliever Michael Kanitra) actually left one inside and I hit it down the line ... and we’re going to Battle Creek.”
Saline (29-10) will play Hudsonville (29-5) in a state semifinal at 1 p.m. Friday at Bailey Park in Battle Creek. Warren DeLaSalle and Howell will meet in the other semifinal.
With the score tied 1-1 in the fifth inning, Hendrickson roped a ball down the third-base line to score pinch runner Brandon Gordon with the go-ahead run.
“He’s a competitive kid. He’s a kid who puts the ball in play, he doesn’t strike out a lot,” said head coach Scott Theisen. “We felt like he was going to move it somewhere and fortunately he put it in a spot where they couldn’t field it.”
Later that inning, Saline’s Andrew White scored on a throwing error after he was caught in a run-down between third and home.
The Hornets added two more runs in the sixth inning. A Trent Theisen sacrifice fly scored Stefan Hastings and, one batter later, Gage Hammond scored on an Austin Hauck triple, making it 5-1.
Not that Saline needed the cushion.
Vaccaro threw limited the Spartans to one unearned run while striking out seven. He said it was the Hornets' game plan that helped him out on the mound.
“I just wanted to go out there and make sure I got ahead of the batters and keep them off balance,” Vaccaro said.
In the top of the fifth, Vaccaro was in a jam with the bases loaded and one out. But he managed to strike out No. 5 hitter Chris McDonald and followed that by getting Nicholas Lagerstrom to pop out to end the inning.
“I tried to make sure the first kid didn’t put the ball in play. And the next kid, just go right at him and try to get him out,” Vaccaro said.
Hammond said getting out of that jam motivated the team offensively.
“We knew we needed to that. Everybody was fired up and those were two big outs to get,” Hammond said. “We knew that was going to bring them down a bit and we had to take advantage. And we did.”
Hammond was 2-for-4 on the day with a stolen base and two runs scored. White, Hendrickson and Hastings added two hits apiece.
Three errors in the middle innings led to Stevenson's only run and were a key factor in the Spartans loading the bases in the fifth.
“We made a few mistakes behind (Vaccaro) and, really, he didn’t get himself in that jam,” said Scott Theisen. “We felt comfortable that he was going and going well.”
Although their coach has been to Battle Creek many times, a majority of the Hornet players have not. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s expected of them.
“It’s going to have to take a lot more intensity. We’re going to have to fight a little bit harder,” said Hammond. “We don’t have the D-I athletes or anybody that can do one thing alone. So we just have to fight harder as a team. We all have to contribute.”