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Spectacular catch seals Churchill’s thrilling regional baseball win

 Spectacular catch seals Churchill’s thrilling regional baseball win

Livonia Churchill Head Coach Lawrence Scheffer and his gritty baseball team advanced to the MHSAA D1 regional final Thursday with a thrilling victory over Monroe. PHOTO COURTESY OF VASILNEK IMAGES

As the baseball struck by Monroe’s Bryce Lechner dropped rapidly toward the outfield grass in right-center field at Ypsilanti Lincoln High School early Thursday evening, Livonia Churchill’s odds of winning the thrilling MHSAA D1 regional semifinal game against the Trojans dropped with it.

At the time, the Chargers were clinging to a 7-5 lead, but Monroe had runners on first and third with two outs in the top of the seventh inning when Lechner’s looping effort grew more dangerous by the second.

“When he hit it, I was just thinking ‘Please, please, get there Nolan!’,” recounted Churchill Head Coach Lawrence Scheffer, referring to his hard-charging right fielder Nolan Swickler. “If that ball falls, it’s probably a tie game because the runner on third scores and the guy on first was running because there were two outs, so he probably scores, too.”

Swickler not only got there; he snagged the ball with a diving effort inches before it hit the grass, preserving Churchill’s two-run triumph.

Swickler, a senior who was the second of three Charger pitchers Thursday afternoon, was mobbed by his jubilant teammates seconds after he secured what will no doubt be remembered as one of the most clutch defensive plays in the history of the school’s baseball program.

Advancing to the ‘Sweet 16’

Now 28-9, Churchill advanced to Saturday’s regional final contest against Northville (28-7). The first pitch is scheduled for 10 a.m. at Northville.

To watch a video of Swickler’s spectacular catch, click here.

Nolan Swickler delivers a pitch in the fifth inning of the regional semifinal win
Nolan Swickler delivers a pitch in the fifth inning of the regional semifinal win

The Chargers trailed 3-1 entering the bottom of the fourth before sending 10 batters to the plate during a five-run uprising.

The victory typified the season for Churchill, which managed just five hits (all singles), but patiently earned seven walks — and two Chargers were hit by pitches.

Six of their seven runs were scored by players who had either walked or been hit by a pitch.

“This is such a gritty team,” said Scheffer. “All year we’ve been bouncing back. These kids just keep battling. I’m super proud of everyone and especially happy for my four seniors (Tyler Mileski, Breyden Renkiewicz, Justin Deitert and Swickler).”

Churchill was limited to two infield hits and one unearned run over the first three innings by Monroe sophomore Carson Liedel, who Scheffer said was touching 93 on the radar gun.

Back-and-forth

The Chargers’ first run came with two outs in the bottom of the third when Liedel snagged a come-backer, but dropped the ball as he attempted to out-sprint Ty Rowe to first base.

Jake Sturgeon eyes a pitch
Jake Sturgeon eyes a pitch

Monroe scored three times in the top of the fourth on Breylen Richards’ solo home run and a two-run, two-out single that scored Jaxson Jones and Lechner.

Swickler ignited the Chargers’ five-run fourth with a lead-off walk. After Renkiewicz walked, Jake Sturgeon roped an RBI single.

Two batters later, No. 9 hitter Dominic Stanley walked and ultimately scored on a double-steal. Rowe capped the scoring explosion with a two-out, run-scoring single.

Trailing 6-3 in the top of the sixth, Monroe scored twice on a two-run single by Garrett Gottschalk.

After Logan Loveland singled to put the potential tying run on base, Churchill first baseman Collin Fisher ended the threat by spearing a sizzling line drive off the bat of Brady Welch.

Tense ending

Churchill tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth when lead-off batter Lucas Brown laced a two-out single, plating Renkiewicz, who led off the frame with a walk.

Rowe, who relieved Swickler on the mound with two on and nobody out in the sixth, induced Monroe’s seventh-inning lead-off batter to ground out before Richards and Brandon Bice followed with back-to-back singles.

With runners on first and third (Richards stole third), Rowe struck out Jones, who was 3-for-3 before the at-bat, before getting Lechner to fly out on an anything-but-routine play by Swickler.

Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or edwright@socialhousenews.com.

Churchill players rush off the field after congratulating Nolan Swickler for his diving catch that preserved the win
Churchill players rush off the field after congratulating Nolan Swickler for his diving catch that preserved the win
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Ed Wright

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