DOVER — Kendall Small didn’t really think the ball was going anywhere when it left his bat.
“At first I thought it was a popup,” admitted the Dover High first baseman. “But then I looked up and he (the
Delaware Military left fielder) was still running back. I thought I had a chance.”
The ball did indeed keep sailing, landing on the other side of the fence for a two-run homerun that ended up being the biggest hit in the fifth-seeded Senators’ hard-earned 4-3 victory over No. 12 DMA in the first round of the
DIAA baseball state tournament on Saturday afternoon.
Dover (15-4) hadn’t done much against Seahawks’ pitcher Matthew Danz until that point. But Small’s opposite-field homer in the fourth inning tied the contest at 2-2.
The Senators then scored two more runs in the frame to open up a 4-2 advantage. While there was plenty of tense moments after that, the four-run outburst was enough to earn Dover a quarterfinal date at fourth-seeded Hodgson (15-4) on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Winning pitcher Jared Rowley threw a complete-game six-hitter, striking out 11 and working out of a few jams. The senior righthander also had an RBI single in the fourth.
“To see a kid like Jared Rowley who has grown so much in four years, off the field and on the field. ... he got it done today,” said Dover coach Dave Gordon, whose team is now 5-2 in the state tourney over the last three years.
“He battled some adversity and he sucked it up. We came up and had a great inning.”
The deciding moment of the game probably came in the top of the sixth.
With the Senators clinging to a 4-3 lead, DMA put a runner on second after a bunt single and a sacrifice bunt. The Seahawks’ Jeffrey Gillis then ground a two-out single past second.
DMA’s third-base coach had already decided to hold the runner at third when the ball bounced away from the Senators’ right fielder. The relay throw then sailed off the backstop but the runner stayed put.
When Rowley got a groundout to end the inning — after that ball was bobbled — the tying run never did come home. Rowley then got a pair of strikeouts in the seventh to close out the victory.
“I felt we lost focus on a couple plays,” said Gordon. “He (the DMA coach) held him up from the beginning. ... We got lucky.
”That DMA program is very impressive,” Gordon added. “They have a very bright future they have a very young team. They’re going to be a tough out in the next could years.”
Rowley also had an interesting fourth inning when he hit three batters and gave up a run. But he was also able to strand three runners on base.
And by limiting DMA to a 2-0 lead, Small’s homer changed the momentum when it tied the score.
“It meant a lot,” Rowley said about the homerun. “I went out there screaming and hugged him after.”
“Once one person’s going, the dugout gets going,” said Small. “Everyone just feeds off of it and we keep it going.”
After Small’s homerun, Rowley and then Aven Purnell (2 hits) followed with RBI singles to give Dover its 4-2 cushion. The Senators had four of their six total hits in the fourth.
Dover, which has reached the state semifinals the last two seasons, know it’s going to have to play better to beat Hodgson on Tuesday.
The state tournament aside, Saturday’s victory was memorable because it was probably the last varsity athletic event played at the old Dover High. While everything else was played at the new school this school year, the baseball and softball teams were left behind because of issues with their new fields.
Winning the last game on the old field meant something to Gordon. Both he and his father played on this field when they were in high school.
The Senators won their last 12 games on this field.
“It’s funny, we got home from Caravel (after losing in the state semis last year) and I was thanking the kids out in the parking lot for closing it out right,” said Gordon. “I was crying in front of them and they were emotional.
“It (the field) means a lot to us. We take pride in it. Even though we’re two miles away from our new field, this is all the seniors know. It was cool to officially close it out.”
“This is our home,” said Rowley. “We closed it out good.”
Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.