SAULT STE., MARIE - Norway nearly denied Atlanta its first MHSAA Division 4 regional baseball championship Saturday.
The Knights (15-6) stranded the tying run on third base in the seventh inning and bowed to the Huskies 2-1 in the regional final at James Field. Norway, behind John Grayvold Jr.'s three-hit pitching, downed Rudyard 8-1 in the semifinals Saturday.
"This is a very difficult loss because of how close we were to getting another regional championship," said Norway coach Tony Adams. "We gave up three runs (1 earned) in two regional games. That should win the trophy.
Mike Mckee/Sault Evening News Photos
Norway’s John Grayvold Jr. pitched a 3-hitter as the Knights beat Rudyard 8-1 in a Division 4 regional semifinal Saturday in Sault Ste. Marie. Third baseman and second-game pitcher Dan Vivio looks on.
Norway second baseman Austin Grayvold (2) throws from his knees to first base for a force out after making a diving stop against Rudyard. Outfielder Garrett Bonetti trails the play.
"We just couldn't get the hit we needed at the right time."
A wild pitch and bloop hit resulted in the Huskies' two runs. Norway loaded the bases with one out in the sixth inning but managed just one run.
"They were the toughest team we've faced all season, by far" Atlanta coach Sean Barrett said. "I always said we had the best defense but we come in second to them. But I always say if we play strong defense and come out hitting, we can beat any team out there."
Atlanta lost starting pitcher Jacob Chambers while running the bases in the top of the second inning. Chambers was thrown out at home by center fielder Garrett Bonetti.
"Chambers failed to slide and created a violent collision with catcher Taylor Bonetti," Adams said.
Chambers was ejected from the game.
The game was scoreless until the top of the third inning when Caleb Cumper reached first on a swinging strike three that eluded the catcher. Cumper stole second, advanced to third on a Garrett Badgero sacrifice fly and scored on wild pitch.
Atlanta scored again in the fifth as Badgero reached on an error, stole second and came around on Taylor Juergens' blooper to right field.
Norway responded with a run in the sixth inning, with Jorden Neumann coming home on a Bill Bourg RBI single. Norway then loaded the bases with one out, but failed to score any more runs.
In the bottom of the seventh, John Grayvold Jr. doubled with one out and moved to third on a Mike Faull sacrifice fly.
But the rally ended as Badgero recorded a strikeout for the final out. Badgero, Atlanta's ace, pitched the final three innings. Knights starter Dan Vivio allowed six hits and struck out six before giving way to Mike Faull for the final two innings.
"Hats off to Atlanta," Adams said. "They didn't make many mistakes and took advantage of a couple of ours.
"The Norway kids played hard all day and should be proud of what they accomplished. Grayvold Jr, Vivio and Faull all pitched well.
"Coach (Mike) Maule did a tremendous job with our pitching all year long."
In the regional opener, Norway batted around the order and scored four runs in the top of the first. The Knights added three more runs in the second inning and went on to a 8-1 win over the Bulldogs.
Rudyard, the defending regional champ, finished 16-10-1 overall.
"We just didn't have it today, and that's baseball," Rudyard coach Ron VanSloten said. "Norway outplayed us. They looked like a team that was very motivated."
Norway pitcher John Grayvold Jr. limited the Bulldogs to just three hits over seven innings, while striking out seven and walking four.
Grayvold Jr. helped his own cause with three hits, while Austin Grayvold added two hits to the Knights' 8-hit attack.
It was a rematch of last season's regional final. This time the Knights won, and evened their recent postseason record against Rudyard to 2-2.
"Our kids were probably sick of hearing from me about how good Rudyard is," Adams said. "All week long, all I talked about was their team and how good they are.
"That was our best game of the year. We did everything pretty well, and we needed to do that to beat a very good Rudyard team."
The Knights sent 10 batters to the plate in the opening frame. Norway scored four runs on two hits, three walks and two errors by the Bulldogs in the inning.
After Grayvold Jr. led off the second inning with a single and Faull drew a walk, the Bulldogs lifted starting pitcher Jake Harrison in favor of Justin Kruger. The Knights added three more runs on a 2-RBI single from Jake Rehn and another Bulldogs' error.
"We had some clutch hits, and took advantage of some uncharacteristic defensive lapses by Rudyard," Adams said. "We felt pretty good with an early lead, and Johnny on the mound."
The Knights tacked on one more run in the seventh to make it 8-0. Billy Bourg singled, moved to second on a fielder's choice and scored on a single from Bryce Grayvold.
Atlanta (24-2) advances to the state quarterfinals Tuesday, meeting Maple City-Glen Lake at Traverse City. The Huskies defeated Onaway 2-0 in the other regional semifinal.
(Alpena News and The Evening News of Sault Ste. Marie also contributed to this story)