By Greg Gielczyk
BATTLE CREEK — Lucas Richardson produced the biggest hit of the 13 collected by the Manistee Saints in Friday afternoon’s 6-5 walk-off victory over the Hackensack Troasts.
Richardson belted a two-run single and preserved the Saints’ perfect record in the National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series in Battle Creek.
Manistee couldn’t put any runs on the board through four innings, and were sent rocking back on their heels when the Troasts put up a five-spot in the fifth.
It could have delivered a devastating, perhaps even crushing blow. But the Saints are familiar with being in such situations, and responded with four runs of their own in the fifth.
Which set the stage for Richardson’s heroics in the seventh inning, with the Saints down to their final out and wanting desperately to move on to Saturday’s elimination round with some momentum.
Although a loss would not have knocked the Saints out of the tournament, it would almost certainly have left a sour taste in their mouths.
“We really wanted to make sure we won this one,” said player/manager Roddy MacNeil. “A lot of credit to the team for fighting, and really wanting to be 3-0.
“It would have been really easy to settle for 2-1, feeling it was good enough. But, that wasn’t their mindset. It’s been that way all season.”
The Saints leadoff man in the final inning, Jake Finkbeiner, drilled a liner to center. But the next two batters were retired in order, and things were looking a little bleak.
But, as MacNeil said, the Saints kept fighting.
Alex Schmitt hung tough at the plate, working a 3-and-1 count before taking ball four and drawing a walk. Richardson then stepped to the plate and smashed a single to center, sending both Finkbeiner and Schmitt home.
Close games are nothing new for the Saints.
“We’ve been in one-run, two-run and three-run games,” said MacNeil. “We’ve won some, and we’ve lost some. I think all that experience has really started to add up.
“You get to a crucial game like this, or a game you have to win, and it’s a testament to what the team has been trying to learn and develop, and do all year.”
Dylan Bates was the beneficiary of the Saints’ rally, collecting the win on the pitcher’s mound, scattering four hits and giving up one run over 3 1/3 innings. He struck out one.
Starter Todd Schmitt, an assistant coach as well, worked the first 3 2/3 innings and gave up four runs on just two hits with two strike outs.
The Saints swept both games on Thursday, defeating the South Bend Royals, 10-5 and then overcoming a three-run deficit with a big eight-run sixth to turn back the Orioles, 12-5.
Next up for the Saints is a 2 pm game Saturday to begin the elimination phase of the Series. The championship game is scheduled for Sunday.