Eastern Tech's Josh Kempa pitched four shutout innings of relief as the second-ranked Mavericks earned a 3-2 win over Middletown for the Class 2A state title yesterday at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen.
Eastern Tech ace Ryan Rivers started the game, but grew tired after allowing two runs in three innings.
After walking only six batters all season, Rivers walked three in the third inning alone. He also threw two wild pitches in the inning, and the 6-foot-5 right-hander found himself down two runs when he was moved to third base at the start of the fourth.
"Normally, with the hot temperature it's better for [Rivers], but I guess after throwing seven [innings] Tuesday, it was just too much for him," coach Spike McElfish said after the Mavericks won their second state title in three years.
After Rivers expressed to McElfish that he was tired following the third inning, the manager inserted Kempa, who came into the game with a 1.50 ERA and led his team in strikeouts with 51.
"Ryan told me he was a little tired, [but] probably could have gone another inning," McElfish said. "But with Josh fresh and ready there was no sense chancing it."
The decision paid dividends as Kempa struck out six and scattered four hits in the game's final four innings.
"I just went in there and tried to shut it down," Kempa said after getting the win.
Though Kempa was holding the Knights at bay, the Mavericks found themselves down 2-0 heading into the fifth, when their bats came alive.
Middletown starter Ty Main broke down, allowing three runs as the Mavericks took their first lead. Dustin Peddicord, who reached on a leadoff single, came around to score when Kempa hit a one-out single to right, making it 2-1. After a hit batsman, it appeared as if Main might get out of it after striking out Ray Zacharski for the second out of the inning, but Ricky Willis delivered a two-out RBI double to give Eastern Tech a 3-2 lead.
It was redemption for Willis, who committed two first-inning throwing errors that led to Middletown scoring a run.
"I had to help my team," Willis said as he cradled the title trophy. "I had to pick up my teammates; [I] had to pick up myself from the first inning."
Before the rally, McElfish reminded his team of the situation the 2005 title team found itself in.
"The 2005 team [was] down 4-0," he said. "I knew our bats were better than that."
After failing to repeat in 2006, McElfish said this year's win carried extra meaning for his team, and for him.
"After feeling so close last year and not getting it, [that] makes this one that much better," he said.