Hampden R.H. Foster Riverdogs catcher Adam Rush admitted that he thought Trenton Acadians Post 207 Sam Horne was going to score the tying run with an inside-the-park two-run homer in the seventh inning of their American Legion state championship game at the sultry Winkin Complex on Wednesday afternoon.
But Riverdog shortstop Gavin Patridge’s relay throw from deep in the outfield was a perfect strike, and Rush applied the tag to Horne as the Riverdogs held on for a 2-1 victory to annex their first ever state title.
The Riverdogs went 5-0 in the tournament, while the Acadians wound up 3-2.
Hampden advances to the eight-team, double-elimination Northeast Regional at Fitton Field in Worcester, Massachusetts, beginning Wednesday.
With the Acadians trailing 2-0 in the top of the seventh, Owen Vinall opened the inning with an infield single off the leg of winning pitcher and tournament Most Valuable Player Wyatt Harriman.
Horne followed with his long triple over center fielder Sam Economy’s head to score Vinall, but Partridge wasted little time snaring Economy’s relay and throwing a one-hopper right to Rush’s glove.
“I took a quick look over my shoulder just before I got the ball, and I saw [Horne] rounding third. So I just turned around and fired it all the way home,” said Partridge, who also made a couple of fielding gems during the game and is the Hampden closer.
“I honestly thought he was going to score with no problem,” Rush said. “Gavin surprised the crap out of me. I was amazed he made such a good throw.
“I was surprised he threw him out by as much as he did,” Rush said.
It was certainly a gamble with no outs, but Acadians coach Josh Jackson, who waved Horne around third, said he never hesitated in sending him.
“That was a deep shot out to left center, and it had to be a perfect throw [to nail him], and it was spot-on for him. In a game like that, you’ve got to make something happen,” Jackson said.
“I didn’t make a great turn at third,” Horne said. “I thought I was in [safely at the plate], but the ump saw something different, so you’ve got to go with it.”
“I got the tag on him thankfully. It was close,” Rush said.
Hampden coach Zach Sugar said Partridge has his own long toss program that he adheres to after practice to build up his arm strength, “and it paid off on that play.”
Following the triple, Harriman walked the next batter but got the final two outs with a great diving play by third baseman Keith Pomeroy to end it.
The game was scoreless through five innings as Harriman and Trenton’s Jackson Curtis were embroiled in a terrific pitching duel.
The Riverdogs finally broke the deadlock with two runs in the sixth.
Nate Allain, the No. 9 hitter, poked a lead-off single into left center and was sacrificed to second by Economy.
Derek Gendreau followed with a triple to left center on an 0-2 pitch to score Allain.
“[Curtis] threw me a couple of high fastballs that I didn’t really want, and then he threw me a nice curve right down the middle. I was looking for it so I just pulled it,” said Gendreau, who scored what proved to be the winning run on a two-out infield throwing error.
Harriman, who pitched six innings of shutout baseball in a 1-0 win over Windham earlier in the tourney, allowed six hits with three walks and a strikeout. He threw 87 pitches, 55 of which were strikes.
Curtis allowed just four hits with one walk and no strikeouts. Just one run was earned. He threw 69 pitches, 48 for strikes.
Gendreau had a single to go with his triple for the Riverdogs while Brad Smith and Matt Burnett had two singles apiece for the Acadians.