DURAND — After letting out a roar following the final out of Monday’s Division 3 district championship game, New Lothrop coach Ben Almasy took part in the handshake line and accepted the trophy.
Then he went into his dugout and wept for a moment.
The hard-fought 7-6 victory over Durand concluded a long day that began at the hospital for a previously scheduled procedure.
“The boys took care of me today,” he said after regaining his composure. “They played perfect, and I needed them to. I was out of it most of the day, but I have assistant coaches and some players from our 2016 (team that made the state finals) who came back. You saw them hitting infield. The kids took care of me, and they told me they would all day.”
The Hornets — after winning their ninth straight district — advanced to Wednesday’s 4 p.m. regional semifinal against Burton Bentley at Burton Bendle. The winner moves on to Saturday’s super regional at Brown City.
Almasy said his team picked him up, but the Hornets did the same for each other late.
Durand had taken a 4-2 lead with three runs off starter Jacob Graves in the fifth. It might have been more if not for a hunch Almasy had with runners on first and second with no one out.
With Max Ortmann on second and Sayer Robinson on first for Durand, the Railroaders attempted a double steal. Hornets catcher Cam Orr fired to second baseman Matt Kieffer, who threw to third baseman Cannon Cromwell to get Ortmann.
“I knew we could come back from two (runs) down,” Almasy said, “but I didn’t know about three. We were lucky we had (a pick play) on, because it kept the game manageable.”
When the Hornets came to bat, the first four hitters reached base and scored in a five-run inning that gave New Lothrop the lead for good against Robinson, Durand’s ace.
“They put the ball in play and made us do something with it,” Robinson said. “That one inning they put the ball where it needed to be.”
But the Railroaders weren’t done.
“One of the things about Sayer is that he’s been the one to come out and shut teams down for us,” Durand coach Brandon Dickinson said. “He keeps us in games, and he kept us in this game. I told my guys he’s been holding us together all year, and it’s our turn to pick him up.”
The Railroaders got a run in the sixth when Kyle Winslow singled, stole second, went to third on a sacrifice and scored on a ground out.
Durand got another run in the bottom of the seventh as Robinson hit a one-out double to right, moved to third on a New Lothrop error and scored on a single by Chandler Cleveland.
At that point, with runners on first and third, Almasy knew it was time to replace Graves.
“He left some balls over the plate, and that’s what he does when he’s tired,” the coach said. “He’s won a state championship in football, so this moment’s not too big for him. I thought he kept us in the game for a long time.”
In came Brady Birchmeier, a freshman who had driven in two runs as New Lothrop’s designated hitter.
“I knew it was the bottom of (Durand’s) order, and their good hitters were already on base, so I wanted to throw strikes and let our defense work,” Birchmeier said.
Instead, the defense watched as Birchmeier struck out the two Durand hitters he faced to seal the Hornets’ victory.
“We almost had it,” Dickinson said. “We had a guy in scoring position.”
Dickinson credited Dylan Freier and Robinson for helping set the standard for the program.
“The rest of the guys know what it takes to get to this point,” he said. “Now we have to take the next step. They know what it’s going to take to get to that next step, hopefully next year.”
Almasy said the game was a pitcher’s duel, despite the high score.
“It was a game where both teams were focused, so there was a lot of hitting,” he said, “If this game was in April, it’s probably a 2-1 game. But everyone was locked in. Credit Durand. They’re a fine team. “
New Lothrop started Monday by completing a 12-2 victory over Byron in the semifinals, finishing a suspended game from Saturday.
Orr got the win, striking out five in four innings. He also went 3-for-3 and drove in a run.
Byron’s Kyle Hulett was tagged with seven runs in two innings for the defeat. He went 1-for-2 with an RBI.
For Almasy, a long day ended in sweet satisfaction.
“We heard it all through districts, how we’re not like we used to be and how we can’t win and can’t hit,” he said. “The kids heard it all year. They hear it enough and it was almost like taunting them.
“They stepped up. I would have been proud of this team no matter what happened (Monday). Now, who knows? Maybe we can win a couple of games.”
Division 3 District at Durand
NEW LOTHROP 12, BYRON 2
Byron 002 00 — 2 4 5
New Lothrop 540 3x — 12 12 0
WP: Cam Orr, New Lothrop (4 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 5 K, 2 BB).
LP: Kyle Hulett, Byron (2 IP, 7 ER, 9 H, 1 K, 1 BB).
Hits: New Lothrop — Orr 3-3, 3R, 1 RBI; Nate Lane, 2-3, 2 R, 3 RBI; Julius Garza 2-3, 2B, 2 R, 3 RBI; Matt Kieffer 2-3, 2 R. Byron — Hulett 1-2, 2B, RBI; Kooper Ciszewski 1-2, 2B.
NEW LOTHROP 7, DURAND 6
New Lothrop 101 005 0 — 7 9 2
Durand 010 031 1 — 6 11 3
WP: Jacob Graves, New Lothrop (6.1 IP, 3 ER, 10 H, 6 K, 1 BB).
LP: Sayer Robinson, Durand (7 IP, 6 ER, 9 H, 3 K, 2 BB).
Hits: New Lothrop — Julius Garza 2-4, 2B, RBI; Jacob Graves 2-3, RBI; Kollin Lienau 2-3, 1 R; Gavin Drager 1-4, 2B, RBI; Brady Birchmeier 1-2, 2B, 2 RBI. Durand — Chandler Cleveland 3-4, 3B, RBI; Devin Freier 2-4; Sayer Robinson 2-4, 2B, RBI; Max Ortmann 2-3.
Records: New Lothrop 26-7; Durand 15-9; Byron 14-17.