Glenelg’s baseball’s Achilles’ heel has been its inability to get big hits at times this season.
With their season and Class 2A state title defense slipping away in the seventh inning against Hammond, the Gladiators got the big hit they’d been searching for. Senior catcher Ben Pearcy smoked a hot shot that went past the Golden Bears second baseman and into right field, bringing in DJ Stolba to tie it.
That was only the first of Glenelg’s clutch hits. After missing a potential game-winning suicide squeeze opportunity in the seventh, sophomore Nick Bilotto delivered in the ninth. He ripped a base hit up the middle, his third hit of the night, scoring Stolba to secure the 4-3 victory.
“I came up there with full confidence and I just tried to do the same thing I’ve been doing all year,” Bilotto said. “Hit the ball hard no matter where it’s pitched, just go up there swinging and it worked out well this time.”
The top-seeded Gladiators (17-2) advance to Tuesday’s 2A East Region II final and will host the winner of No. 2 Middletown and No. 3 Poolesville, who play Monday.
“I like Nick to hit the ball, but I asked him, ‘Can you squeeze?’ and he said he could get it down,” Glenelg coach Steve Tiffany said. “It’s just so awesome for him after he misses the squeeze to come back and walk it off. As a sophomore, he’s been really good for us and battled and grinded. He was in the nine-hole most of the year, but we had to move him up because he just puts the ball in play.”
The Golden Bears were three outs from the upset when Stolba worked a leadoff walk in the seventh and advanced to second on a sac bunt. Pearcy’s hit tied the game but Hammond got out of the inning leaving the game tied.
Nick Duvall pitched seven innings for the Gladiators and struck out nine, but gave way to Jackson Kelley. The veteran threw a pair of scoreless innings despite multiple runners reaching base each inning. With the heart of their lineup coming up in the ninth, Glenelg made sure Kelley wouldn’t need another inning of work.
Two batters were hit by pitches and Pearcy added a bunt single. Rodriguez struck out Duvall for the second out, but Bilotto made sure the Golden Bears wouldn’t escape.
Nine days ago, Glenelg defeated No. 4 seed Hammond, 18-0, in the county regular-season finale and the Golden Bears made sure that wouldn’t happen again. Hammond struck twice in the first as Chase Endres and Daniel Rodriguez delivered back-to-back RBI hits, energizing the dugout.
Starter Charlie Moskov neutralized the Gladiators’ lineup with two scoreless innings to open the game. The Gladiators broke through in the third as Pearcy ripped his first of four hits of the evening, driving in Logan Pusheck.
Hammond (8-11) added to its lead in the top of the fifth, as Endres ripped his second hit of the game, driving in Nick Wilk. However, the Gladiators were quick to answer in the bottom half with Pearcy delivering his second RBI double of the game. That was Moskov’s last batter as the Golden Bears starter went 4 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and striking out three.
“We told him we want four innings and he gave us even more,” Hammond coach Casey Medairy said. “For a pitcher to go up against a team like Glenelg, you have to have more than one pitch on. Your off-speed has to make your fastball effective. In the last inning, we told him you’ve got until one guy gets on and he was working through that inning and almost finished. It’s the longest outing by far he’s had all year. He’s only come on in relief this year, so it was a big ask of him.”
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Jack Boudreau came on to get the final out of the fifth and preserve the one-run lead. The Gladiators threatened again in the sixth but Hammond reliever Aidan Harris shut the door in his first appearance of the season.
Bilotto, the only sophomore on the team, delivered in the season’s biggest moment, moving the Gladiators one step closer to their title defense and leaving the Golden Bears heartbroken after nearly pulling off the upset.
“There’s really nothing like it,” Pearcy said. “I grew up with a lot of the kids that I play with. Especially the seniors, I’ve been playing with or against them since I was seven or eight years old. So, to play with them and have a chance to do what we did again last year is just huge.”