Franklin Township's 13-14 Babe Ruth team had the luxury of knowing that if it lost its first game to Blue Valley Saturday afternoon, it would still have another shot at winning the District 4 crown.
Franklin made sure it didn't come down to a one-game scenario.
Franklin Township rallied in the top of the seventh inning to come from behind and defeat defending-state champ Blue Valley, 16-11, to win the District 4 double-elimination championship. It was the second consecutive game Franklin knocked off Blue Valley en route to the title.
"The first inning was great and it was nice to jump out to a 3-0 lead," said Franklin manager Brad Niehoff. "We felt comfortable at that time, but we gave up the lead as Blue Valley chipped away.
"We knew it was going to be a battle for all seven innings. The kids battled through a couple bad innings and ended up making the plays when we had to. The kids just hung in there and came out on top."
Trailing by one heading into the top of the seventh, Franklin's bats came alive in a big way. Each of the first eight batters Franklin sent to the plate reached base via a hit or a walk and eventually came around to score. Eli Dekorte's RBI single with the bases loaded drove in the go-ahead run. A second run scored on the play on a fielding error.
KJ Snerr, who finished the day 3-for-5, blew the game open two batters later with a bases-clearing triple. Teammate Wyatt Clements followed with his fourth hit of the game to drive in another run.
It was an eventful day for Clements to say the least. The catcher was 4-for-5 on the day with a double and four RBIs. He also made a diving catch on a suicide squeeze in the bottom of the sixth and turned it into an inning-ending double play. The play killed a potentially huge inning for Blue Valley with the bases loaded.
Clements had his share of mistakes as well. He was caught in a pickle to end the third and dropped the ball at home on a tough play in the second. Still, he bounced right back with a two-RBI double an inning later.
"I felt pretty relieved," Clements admitted. "After that happened I was kind of down in the dumps and felt lousy. So getting that hit really lifted my spirits and helped me throughout the rest of the game.
"It feels very good to be district champs for the first time."
Teammate Ryan Malarkey had a great day at the dish as well. The big right-hander finished the game 4-for-4 with four RBIs. He also picked up the win in relief by allowing just one earned run.
"I had been in a slump for a while and didn't have a hit in the whole tournament until today," said Malarkey. "I just got out of it today and was feeling good at the plate.
"It feels great. We came so close so many times and to finally win it is just awesome."
Franklin won all four of its tournament games by a combined score of 62-16. Its run total included games of 26, 15, 5 and 16 runs.
Franklin will now play in the state championship tournament that will run from July 18-23 in Milroy. Teams will be divided into a pair of four-team pools for bracket play. The top two teams in each pool will then advance to a single-elimination round of play to crown the champion.
For now, Niehoff and his boys are going to enjoy their district title.
"It feels great," Niehoff said. "We have been trying since the kids were eight, nine, ten and little league and on up. It is great to see them finally come through. The whole team came through. It wasn't just one or two guys. It was a total team effort and that's really nice to see."
The Franklin Township Babe Ruth team is asking area businesses or individuals interested in helping the team cover its costs for the trip to the state tournament to contact Melissa at 570-325-3326.
Franklin Twp 301 400 8 - 16 17 2
Blue Valley 043 011 2 - 11 14 3
Snerr, Malarkey (4), Niehoff (7) and Clements; Freeman, Lopez (4), Ianni (6), Hohenstein (7) and Esposito, Field (5). W – Malarkey, L – Ianni.