Epic rally lifts Wesleyan past Westchester

Apr. 30, 2013 @ 11:17 PM

Zach Michalski couldn’t stop smiling. And why not — he’d just experienced perhaps the greatest moment of his prep career.

With two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, he blasted a grand slam deep to left and into the night to cap a seven-run outburst by the Wesleyan Christian Academy baseball team and beat rival Westchester Country Day School 7-6 on Tuesday at Ed Price Field.

“It was the coolest game I’ve ever played in,” said Michalski, who, along with his fellow seniors, was celebrating Senior Night. “It was the most memorable hit I’ve ever had.”

Trailing 6-0 into the bottom of the seventh, the Trojans (17-6), ranked No. 3 in the NCISAA 3A, loaded the bases with no outs and scratched across runs on a walk, sacrifice fly and bloop into center field to pull within 6-3. Following a strikeout, Michalski stepped to the plate.

“My approach coming into it was that I knew I have very good hitters on my team, very good hitters behind me,” said Michalski, who has signed with UNC Asheville. “We got to them with some runs, and my approach was: I’m a senior, it’s my last game on this field, and I’m just going to leave it all on the field. Whatever happens happens.

“I was pretty relaxed, not thinking of the pressure. I was really just trying to get a line drive somewhere, get a run in and hopefully let the next guy do his job. He threw me a fastball high, a little inside. He was throwing hard, so I just tried to see the ball and let it hit the bat. And I knew, as hard as he was throwing, I just had to make solid contact.”

With one swing of the bat, the result flipped completely from a solid win for the Wildcats (16-6), ranked No. 1 in the NCISAA 2A, to a heartbreaking loss. Tyler Marion pitched masterfully through six complete innings, striking out 13 before leaving in the seventh.

But for a team that’s working to win a state championship, not just compete for one, six good innings were hardly a consolation. Three errors and a couple more tough plays it couldn’t quite make left a bitter taste for Westchester in the aftermath of a game it was in position to win.

“You tip your hat. He made a good swing on it,” coach Joey Hammond said. “Elevated fastball — it was a bit hit in a big situation. I’ve said this time and time again, if we do what we’re supposed to do, then I don’t think any team can beat us — like if we catch a routine fly ball.

“Or three of them. Then he never has an opportunity — not to take away from him. But Marion did some things today that I hadn’t seen done in high school baseball. He absolutely dominated a very good team for six innings. And even then we didn’t handle the ball well defensively.”

Hayden Manuel, Lane Kowalski and Ryan Clinch also had RBIs for the Trojans, while Jake Moebius picked up the win in relief. Donnie Sellers took the loss for the Wildcats, while Luke Puckett went 3 for 3 with an RBI, Adam Kirkman had two hits and two RBIs, and Markel Johnson had two RBIs.

Westchester plays again in the Triad Athletic Conference semifinals Thursday at 2 p.m. at Trinity of Durham. Wesleyan plays Tuesday at Charlotte Latin.

“We just kept fighting,” Trojans coach Scott Davis said. “(Marion) was throwing a good ballgame. So, we just tried to piece together good at-bats. Sure enough, we were able to get a couple runners on and capitalize on a few of their mistakes to put ourselves in that position.

“Defensively, we played a very good ballgame overall. ... We knew we weren’t doing anything really wrong — they were just getting big hits at the right time. So, we just kept hanging in there and hoped something good would happen down the stretch.”