VIENNA - Holding onto a three-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, John F. Kennedy pitcher Alec Rossi put himself in a bit of a pickle.
Despite getting a double play early, Rossi allowed Mathews to load the bases and faced the Mustangs' possible game-winning run as designated hitter Bryan Oatridge stepped to the plate.
The pressure didn't get to the senior pitcher. In a 2-2 count, Oatridge swung and missed for the final out as the Eagles sealed an 8-5 win over Mathews in a Division IV sectional semifinal.
It was the second time the Mustangs (17-7) loaded the bases in the game, and Kennedy coach Don Lee said he was relieved to see the Eagles (10-13) escape relatively unscathed for a second time.
"You got to play to the last out," Lee said. "I was a little worried - we had the bases loaded again. It was good to see the last strikeout. I didn't want a ground ball, I really didn't want a fly ball. I'm glad that it was a strikeout."
Rossi said that it felt great to record the game-winning strikeout, especially against Mathews. The Mustangs beat the Eagles earlier this season, 6-2, and during the senior's playing days at Kennedy, Mathews beat the Eagles twice in tournament action.
"It's just an awesome feeling," Rossi said. "They already beat us once this year. They beat us my sophomore year and my freshman year, so it feels good to come back at them and get a little retaliation."
Going into the top half of the seventh tied, 5-5, the Eagles took the lead when John Hilty hit an RBI single that scored Rossi, and Preston Caparanis and Luke Keck knocked in two more runs to add some insurance runs.
"Our mentality was to give it all you got, this could be your last shot," Rossi said. "We gave it all we got, put the bats on the balls and ended up winning."
Mathews took an early 3-1 lead after the first inning, when freshman Bryan Leipply parked a two-run home run near the left-field foul pole. While that home run energized the team, the Mustangs seemed to lose that energy in the middle innings, allowing the Eagles to come back and eventually two a 5-3 in the top of the fifth.
The Mustangs managed to answer back with a couple of runs through small-ball tactics in the fifth and sixth innings to set up the drama at the end.
"We misplayed a ball or two in the infield," Mathews coach Jared Terlecky said. "We gave up an out or two there and gave them a run. In a close game, that stuff can come back and bite you. That was a little bit of a momentum swing when we made those mistakes."
Kennedy moves on to face Jackson-Milton at 4 p.m. today at Eastwood Field in Niles. After upsetting the third-seeded team in the first round, Lee said the team will look to repeat the task against the sixth-seeded Blue Jays.
"You have your ups and downs all year," Lee said. "We've had plenty of games we should have won that we didn't win. I said it's just the team that gets hot. Now, we've got Jackson-Milton (today). They're a good team."