DeAndre Smelter wanted a second chance.
Not many batters get the best of Tattnall Square’s hard-throwing junior, but Dominion Christian’s Garrett McDaniel bested Smelter on Monday in Game 1 of the GISA Class AAA championship series with a home run.
So a day after being forced to leave the mound with cramps in his pitching arm and an inning after hitting the go-ahead home run in the deciding game of the championship series, Smelter was faced with one final subplot in a game loaded with them Tuesday.
McDaniel strolled up to the plate with runners on first and second with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning with his team facing a 3-2 deficit in Game 3.
“I wanted revenge,” Smelter said. “I wanted another chance.”
The junior made the most of the opportunity, blowing away McDaniel for a strikeout to clinch the Trojans’ second consecutive AAA championship and fifth overall.
“He was bringing it in the 10th,” catcher Jamie McMillan said. “He was lights out. I felt sorry for those guys. (McDaniel) caught (17 innings on Tuesday). He was tired. He was getting fastballs.”
Smelter fell to his knees after the strikeout, and his teammates mobbed him on the mound. Smelter stepped away from the pile and gathered himself emotionally. Game 3 starter Jordan Brooks suffered cramps immediately after the game. The rest of the Trojans celebrated, but it was a tired celebration after 17 innings of baseball.
Smelter’s strikeout ended a game that included a pitcher throwing 10 innings in two days, a game-tying pinch-hit home run by a freshman, a game-saving play at the plate and a catcher returning to the game two separate times after suffering painful cramps in both legs.
“I’ve heard people throwing around the term, ‘Game for the Ages,’ ” Tattnall head coach Joey Hiller said. “I’d agree with that. That was the best baseball game I’ve been apart of. Every single player on our team contributed. It was a total team effort by a group of guys who wouldn’t give up.”
Hiller turned to Brooks after the Trojans lost 15-10 in Game 2 earlier Tuesday. The Trojans trailed 12-0 in the game but battled back to make the game competitive. Hiller sold that fighting spirit to his team between games and knew he would get a big game out of Brooks.
Brooks didn’t disappoint, even after winning the deciding game in the semifinals Friday at Deerfield-Windsor and becoming the pitcher of record with 2-1/3 innings of work in Monday’s Game 1 win over Dominion Christian.
Brooks delivered what Hiller called the game of his life.
After giving up a first-inning run, Brooks hit a solo home run to tie the game in the second inning. McMillan got Brooks another run in the third inning to give Tattnall a 2-1 lead, and it looked for most of the game that was all Brooks would need.
Brooks retired 14 batters in a row at one point, leading the Trojans into the bottom of the seventh with three outs to go to win the championship.
“His slider was so sharp,” McMillan said. “He was awesome. Besides (Smelter), he’s the best high school pitcher I’ve ever seen. He really stepped up big.”
But Brooks gave up a solo home run to freshman pinch-hitter Dwayne Carroll to lead off the seventh that tied the game. Carroll hit for McDaniel, who was struggling with cramps after catching all day long.
“I thought I let my team down,” Brooks said. “I made a mistake, and I thought I’d let us down.”
Brooks retired the side and got the first two outs of the eighth before he topped out at the limit of 10 innings pitched in a series.
Hiller turned to sophomore Ryan Moseley, who hit the first batter he faced in Blake Mowry. Mowry advanced to second on a wild pitch. It looked like Dominion would have a chance to win the series when Reid Schneider slapped a single up the middle, but Grant Nicholson fielded the ball cleanly in center field and threw a strike to the plate to get Mowry.
“Grant has the most accurate arm on the team,” said McMillan, who got cramps in his quadriceps on the tag. “I kept my eye on it. It was chest-high, the perfect throw. I just blocked the plate. Whatever it takes, don’t let that run score.”
After Moseley gave up a leadoff double in the ninth, Hiller went to Smelter, who played shortstop for the first 16 innings of the day. Smelter ended the threat with two comebackers to the mound and a fly out to right field.
Struggling at the plate and reeling after leadoff runner Garret True was picked off at first, Smelter hit a shot to center field for his seventh home run of the season and what turned out to be the game-winner.
“I wasn’t sure that it was gone,” Smelter said. “It was high. I was just praying.”
Smelter’s prayer came true, and he got his redemption a little later on the mound, leading to a Trojans celebration.