Steve Swiech is accustomed to pitching in important games. The four-year Mount Hebron varsity starter earned a win over Centennial his freshman year that clinched a share of the county championship.
Yesterday at Hammond's hitter-friendly field, the slick senior left-hander faced his biggest challenge this season against a hard-hitting No. 8 Bears team that had an 11-game winning streak and was tied with the No. 5 Vikings for first place.
Despite throwing 121 pitches and allowing three home runs, two in the last inning, Swiech gutted out a 7-6 complete-game victory, giving his Vikings (13-3, 12-2) a one-game lead over Hammond (13-3, 11-3) with four games left.
"It's a little bit intimidating pitching here. But I wasn't coming out," Swiech said. "I wanted to win this game so bad. My goal was to win the county title this year, and this was a big step. And all the trash-talking they've been doing just makes you sick after awhile."
Mount Hebron coach Matt Forsyth said he thought about taking Swiech out in the seventh inning. "But he had been out there and had a feel for what was going on. It would have put a lot of pressure on a new pitcher."
Jason Maxey and Brian Brewer hit back-to-back, one-out home runs in the bottom of the seventh. It was Brewer's 11th homer, tying the county record held by Maxey and leaving Brewer one shy of the state public school record.
But Swiech then fanned Kevin Schwartz, and after a single by Phil Pinkham, got Peter Serpico to fly out to end the game.
Swiech (5-2) struck out nine and walked two while allowing eight hits.
"Hammond hit the ball good, but I knew Steve would come through in the end," said Vikings first baseman Steve Sansone, who had the game-winning hit -- a high 316-foot drive that barely cleared the center-field fence in the fifth inning.
"It was an inch or two over," said Hammond center fielder Jason Harriman. "I think the wind caught it. I didn't expect it to be back to the fence."
Sansone's three-run homer climaxed a decisive, two-out, four-run rally that put the Vikings ahead 7-4. Derok Roach also knocked in a run that inning with a single.
Mount Hebron's winning rally followed a three-run, fourth-inning outburst by Hammond that featured a two-run single by Adam Heffron and an RBI double by Harriman. The Bears led briefly 4-3. Hammond's other run came on a first-inning homer by Pat Fields.
In the second, Mount Hebron scored twice, as Roach had an RBI single and Sansone drove in a run with a ground ball. The Vikings added an unearned run in the third inning on an error, two walks and a groundout by Blake Phipps.
Hammond starter Jeff Miller pitched five innings, allowing seven runs, seven hits, walking five and hitting two batters.
Hammond coach Bob Maxey told his players: "We have to put this game in perspective. We got beat on a 316-foot fly ball."