Saints baseball slows down to advance to 5A final four

NDP junior Griffen Chewning tosses the ball during Notre Dame Prep’s 7-2 win over Millennium in the 5A state playoffs. (Independent Newsmedia/Jacob Stanek)

The Notre Dame Preparatory baseball team jumped ahead 3-0 in the top of the second inning despite hitting only one ball out of the infield.

By the time 5A No. 6 seed Millennium High School clawed back into the game at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the Saints’ bats were awake.

No. 14 Notre Dame Prep (16-14) took command of the state tournament elimination game with a three-run fourth inning and junior pitcher Elmer Dressens brought home a 7-2 victory. The Saints now face a familiar foe, No. 2 Horizon High School (22-7) at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 9.

“Horizon is right next door to us and a lot of the guys know each other. It’s becoming a rivalry. We want to play them and we played two good games against them in the regular season. We’re going to have to play our best to win,” Notre Dame Prep coach Brian Fischer said.

The Saints grabbed an early advantage by making the Tigers pay for their mistakes.

Millennium senior Robert Schmidt walked the bases loaded with one out in the first. Junior Michael Piazza hit an RBI single to left.

The top of the second was all about the bunt. Senior Clayton Osmussen was hit by a pitch. Junior Ty Kniffin bunted and was safe at first when the Tigers tried, unsuccessfully, to throw out pinch runner Jackson Stuart at third.

“When they slow the game down — which I tell them all the time — they have a chance because they’re very talented. They’re starting to understand that we can play this game at the highest level,” Coach Fischer said.

Stuart scored and Kniffin advanced to second on sophomore Maguire Peterson’s bunt that popped right over Schmidt’s head. A walk loaded the bases and senior Jarrett Pille lofted a sacrifice fly to center.

Millennium got one back in the second inning as sophomore Connor Hill hit a double off the glove of a sprinting center fielder. Junior Matthew Obst’s grounder ate up the second baseman and Hill scored.

Junior Trevor Baugh reached on an error in the bottom of the third and stole second. Senior David Enriquez drove him in with an RBI single.

Senior Cole Tofil doubled to bring the tying run to third but Dressens got a fly ball to end the threat.

“Just knowing our guys, I never think it’s over,” Millennium coach Jerod Burleson said. “We just didn’t do a very good job of playing catch. They did a better job than us tonight.”

Following an error and two walks in the fourth, Pille hit another sacrifice fly. Junior Connor Markl and Piazza added back-to-back singles to break the game open 6-2.

Dressens scattered three base runners over the last four innings.

“Elmer did an outstanding job. He’s really come on at the end of the season for us and we needed to add that third guy to get us there,” Coach Fischer said.

“I told our guys we couldn’t make any mistakes. We’re such a young team. We’ve got four seniors and five sophomores in there at any given moment, so if we can eliminate mistakes we can have a chance. They’re starting to believe that.”

It was a sudden ending for the Tigers, who battled Horizon in a winners bracket pitchers duel. The Huskies pulled out a 1-0 win Saturday.

It remains a landmark season for Millennium (23-7). The program has not advanced this far in the playoffs or won this many games since 2011.

“I felt like the Horizon game sucked the wind out of us a little bit. We were just trying to keep our heads above water,” Coach Burleson said.

“All I can hope is that our younger kids will be able to use moments like this to lift a few more weights in the offseason and focus a little more in practice.”

Editor’s Note: Richard Smith is the West Valley Preps sports editor for the Daily News Sun.

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