Senior Justin Leigh's flair over third base, just inside the foul line, scored Bryan Stotler from second base with the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning as the Vikings edged the Field Falcons 4-3 in Tuesday's Portage County League championship game at Kent State's Gene Michael Field.
The win gave the Vikings their first PCL baseball title since 1970 and also concluded the winningest season by a Waterloo baseball squad as the Vikings posted 18 victories, two above the mark set by the '70 group.
"It will be a ceremonious display when we go up to a banner with a lowly baseball player on it that has one little number 70, and right beside that we're going to put a 98, twenty-eight years later," said an emotional Waterloo coach Doug Mori, who won two baseball titles at Rootstown in the early '80s.
Stotler reached base thanks to a one-out Field error in the bottom of the eighth. Stotler then advanced himself into scoring position when he stole second base.
Jeremy Graening, the Vikings' best hitter with an average well over .500, was then intentionally walked by Field reliever Jason Stein.
That brought Leigh to the plate with a chance to end the game.
And the senior first baseman instantly became a hero when he lifted a Stein delivery that fell just behind third base, and Stotler raced home from second into the embracing arms of his teammates.
"A little bloop hit, what can you do?" said Field coach Larry Wiles of the game-winning hit. "He makes a good pitch, but that's baseball."
For the Vikings, that never-say-die attitude that Mori has drummed into them this year again paid dividends.
"I told them last night to think positive thoughts and never give up," said Mori whose team rallied from a 3-1 fifth-inning deficit. "We learned that in that doggone playoff game (district semifinal against LaGrange Keystone). We were down 4-1 and we never gave up (winning 5-4)."
Stein deserved a better fate. Entering the game in the fifth in relief of starter Kody Lantz, the junior hurler (6-2) twice pitched himself and his team out of bases-loaded situations.
When he came on the scene in the fifth, the Falcons (18-8) were ahead 3-1, scoring three runs in the top of the fourth off Waterloo ace J. R. Steinel (10-1) thanks to three Vikings' errors.
But the Vikings (18-8), as has been their penchant throughout the season, kept scrapping and fighting and drew three walks off a tiring Lantz, loading the bases with none out in the fifth.
Wiles then summoned Stein from his shortstop position to come in and try to short-circuit the Waterloo rally.
He got Justin Leigh on a towering pop over the second-base bag for out No. 1.
Erik Mori then slapped a roller toward second base that ended up in an error, driving in a run and keeping all the bases occupied.
Stein didn't let the error bother him, as he got Steinel to pop to second and fanned Eric Leigh to end the inning with his team still ahead 3-2.
But the very next inning the Vikings tied the contest with the help of another Field miscue, this one a two-base error that allowed Joe Scalfaro to go to second leading off the sixth. Following a strikeout, Curt Lindsay tied the game with a single to left-center.
Stein again prevented further damage by picking off Lindsay and getting Graening to ground out.
The Vikings had a great chance to win the game in the bottom of the seventh when they loaded the bases on three walks _ two of which were intentional.
Justin Leigh walked to start the inning and promptly stole second. Erik Mori then advanced him to third with a groundout to the right side.
Wiles then had Steinel and Eric Leigh intentionally put on base, setting up a force anywhere.
Stein, however, took care of things himself, fanning the next two batters to end the threat.
"He saved us a couple of times," said Wiles of Stein's impressive effort that kept his team in the game.
Wiles said the importance of the game, plus the fact that the Falcons hadn't played in a while, contributed to their poor fielding (four errors).
"Given the intensity of the game, what was on the line and (the fact) we hadn't played a game for eight days, we were rusty," said Wiles.
Other than the fourth inning, Steinel was awesome as he struck out 17 Field hitters. On three occasions _ the third, fourth and fifth innings _ he struck out the side.
In that fourth inning, though, he surrendered two of Field's five hits and three runs.
After a walk to Josh Hunter and a strikeout, Dustin Leek slapped a grounder to third that Erik Mori fielded cleanly near the bag.
However, his throw to first kept elevating until it got over the head of Justin Leigh. Hunter scored all the way from first, tying the contest at 1-1.
Stein followed with a single, placing runners at second and third. Jason McBroom drove them both home with a single, giving Field its first lead of the day at 3-1.
Other than that the Falcons never threatened, getting only two baserunners the last four innings.