John Goetz smiled and tightly gripped the game ball. He said he never wanted to let go, but here is thinking that ball is destined for a trophy case. But only after it left a significant mark on Goetz.
Goetz drove in the game-winning run Wednesday at Bowman Field after being hit by a two-out, two-strike pitch, lifting Montgomery to a dramatic 5-4, 8-inning District 4 Class A semifinal win over Sullivan County.
An inning earlier, Goetz scored the game-tying run, coming home from second on an error and with his scholastic career at stake, he did whatever necessary to send Montgomery (17-2) to the district championship. Thanks to him taking that inside pitch off his back, the Red Raiders will play for that title Friday against Canton.
"It's an unusual way to win, but we showed in the last two innings that we have come together as a ballclub and if you want to go far in the postseason that is what you need to do," Goetz said. "We're excited to go to the final and we're going to get in a good, hard practice and be ready to for the final."
Montgomery overcame a 3-1 fourth-inning deficit and scored the tying run with two outs in the seventh after Goetz hustled home when the Sullivan center fielder dropped the ball transferring it from his glove to his hand.
It was a heads-up play by Goetz, but it was a play one of the school's top students is accustomed to making. An inning later, his brother, Thomas, drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on Corey Kriner's bunt before Alex Worthington reached on an error. Following a strikeout, Sullivan (13-9) intentionally walked winning pitcher Garrett Shnyder, setting the stage for Goetz.
The senior third basemen fell behind 0-2 but took two straight balls before being hit by the high, inside pitch. Any pain Goetz felt quickly disappeared as he headed to first with a lifetime memory etched into his mind as Montgomery celebrated the dramatic win.
"When they intentionally walked Garrett I was so mad and I wanted to make them pay," said Goetz, who hit a walk-off single a few years ago against Danville. "Being in those pressure situations is a great feeling and when you come through like that, it's not just good as an individual but good for the whole team because that shows we will do whatever it takes to win as a team."
"He came through," Montgomery coach Tom Persing said. "Not many people would be able to score from second on that pop fly and he just kept going. He helped us get back in the game and he was tough."
One could say the same for the whole team which never buckled despite being behind the whole time. Worthington struck out 11 in seven solid innings before Shnyder earned his seventh win in relief, striking out all three batters he faced in the eighth.
Sullivan concluded the best season in program history, coming within an out of reaching its first district final. The Griffins broke the program record for wins, reached the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and beat defending district champion Muncy in the quarterfinals.
Zach Meyer pitched 7 2/3 gutsy innings, repeatedly getting out of trouble, striking out eight and nearly taking it to a ninth inning. The junior right-hander did so despite throwing 145 pitches. Meyer also hit a first-inning RBI single that made it 1-0. Catcher Kelby Mullen broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth, singling in Barry Heinrich with two outs.
"They played well and are a good team," Persing said. "Our guys showed a lot of heart to fight back after being down the whole time. They didn't get down and kept fighting back."
Sullivan102 001 00-4 10 4
Montgomery100 110 11-5 9 2
Zach Meyer and Kelby Mullen. Alex Worthington, Garrett Shnyder (8) and Kyle Russell. W-Shnyder, (6-1). L-Meyer.
Top Sullivan hitters: Meyer 2-4, RBI, 2 SB; Barry Heinrich 2-4, 2B, R; Mullen 2-3, RBI. Top Montgomery hitters: Russell 2-5, RBI; Garrett Shnyder 1-4, 2B, R; Corey Kriner 2-3, 2B, R; John Goetz 1-3, RBI, R.
Records: Montgomery 17-2. Sullivan 13-9.