Brock Danneker thought about dropping his head. He had reason to, but kept fighting the urge.
Following an error that came on a tailor-made double play ball and put runners on first and third with no outs in the seventh inning, the St. John Neumann senior leader proved he is as tough as he is talented. Danneker pitched a masterful game and he saved his best for when it mattered most.
Danneker retired the next three hitters and ended the game with a strike-three fastball as Neumann edged Sullivan County, 2-1 Wednesday at Brandon Park. Danneker threw a three-hitter, allowed no earned runs and struck out nine as the Knights (5-9) kept alive their district playoff hopes.
"The team mindset comes from the pitcher. If the pitcher has his head down the whole team goes down so I knew I had to keep my head up there or else the whole team would drop," Danneker said. "That game was too close and we were about to give it to them so I had to stay confident to keep the rest of the team up so we could finish that one out."
Danneker scored the game's first run, Ryan Reid went 3 for 3 and center fielder Noah Beiter made a potentially game-saving catch as Neumann avenged a previous defeat to Sullivan (7-7). Neumann took a 2-0 first-inning lead when Beiter hit an RBI infield single and Reid used heads up base-running to score on an attempted double play.
Jake Gavitt hit an RBI fifth-inning single, making it 2-1 and it appeared Sullivan would likely at least tie the game in the seventh. Tom Blasi hit a lead-off single before Gavitt hit a grounder to Danneker who immediately fielded it and threw to second base. Nobody covered the bag, though, and the throw went into center field, setting the stage for a dramatic ending while raising Neumann coaches' blood pressure.
Danneker channeled his anger in a positive manner and struck out the next Griffin on four pitches. He then induced a pop out to shallow left field before throwing an excellent 2-2 pitch that tailed away for the game-ending strikeout. The right-hander mixed his pitches beautifully and threw only 94 pitches while giving Neumann a win it desperately needed.
"I knew I had to focus in more. I had been slipping up a little and I knew I had to focus more and do the job," Danneker said. "If we had a couple more runs I'd be a little more relaxed but I'm glad it was as close as it was because it kept me channeled in and I was able to just go right back at them. To finish it out on a strikeout like that, that's big in a 2-1 game."
Beiter gave Danneker a huge fifth-inning assist. Following Gavitt's RBI single, Sullivan had runners on first and second with one out. Danneker struck out the next hitter, but Colton Fry blooped what looked like would be a sure game-tying single into shallow left field. Instead, Beiter sprinted in and made a spectacular face-first diving catch.
Beiter actually collided with left fielder Patrick Roman and the two knocked shoulders. Still, Beiter followed the ball and made the catch just before the ball hit the ground. Had he not made that catch, Neumann might have lost its 10th game.
"It was dropping fast and me and Pat were racing to the ball and I got there before him. We collided a little bit and I hurt my hand, but I had to make the catch," Beiter said. "I saw it the whole way and I knew I had to dive to get it. I had to make a play."
"He had the game-changer. That kept our defense alive," Neumann coach Ed Danneker said. "We're in a must win situation and we have to play every game like a playoff the rest of the way."
Neumann is trying to make the playoffs for the first time in 19 years and has the potential to do so if it builds off yesterday's win. Sullivan opened the season 7-3 and doubled up the Knights the first time, so progress is being made. That Neumann still is in the playoff hunt speaks volumes too since the team has only 10 players.
"We've come a long way and we're doing really good," Beiter said. "We have some slack to cover up but I think we can do it."
Sullivan000 010 0-1 3 1
Neumann200 000 x-2 7 3
Zach Meyer and Kelby Mullen. Brock Danneker and Doug Hasko. WP-Danneker (2-1). LP-Meyer (3-3).
Top Sullivan hitters: Mullen 2B; Barry Heinrich 2B, R; Jake Gavitt 1-3, RBI. Top Neumann hitters: Danneker 1-3, R; Ryan Reid 3-3, R; Conor Flynn 2B.
Records: Neumann 5-9. Sullivan 7-7.