West Hempfield Forces Deciding Game 3

By Keith Barnes
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, July 16, 2006

 

A few days after John Veech-Dixon pitched West Hempfield into the District 31 semifinals, he used his bat to force a deciding Game 3 against Latrobe at 1 p.m. today.

Veech-Dixon hit a walk-off opposite field grand slam in the bottom of the seventh to complete a 10-7, come-from-behind win over Latrobe, tying the best-of-three series, 1-1.

"I was just hoping to get a little base hit there, and it just happened to go over the fence," said Veech-Dixon, who finished the game 2 for 4 with five RBI. "I was just trying to get the ball in play, and, if it dropped, it dropped."

It was the first home run Veech-Dixon hit in American Legion play, and it couldn't have come at a better time. West Hempfield had blown a 2-1, first-inning lead and, at one point, trailed South/East Division champion Latrobe, 7-3, before rallying for three runs in the fifth and the clinching blow with one out in the seventh.

"It was a great baseball game, and we were just looking for Johnny to get a fly ball to tie the game," West Hempfield coach Bob Stokes said. "It was a great effort from these kids, and I told them in the fifth inning that, if they believe it can happen, it will."

Trailing 7-6 entering the seventh, West Hempfield (15-9) played small ball to get itself into position for Veech-Dixon to deliver the big hit.

Dan Norris led off with a single, and Zack Martin drew a walk off Latrobe starter Brian Hantz to send cleanup hitter Steve Dubich to the plate. Dubich laid down a perfect bunt for an infield single to load the bases.

"It was a situation that, I told him, I want to play the kind of baseball where we need a fly ball to (tie) the game," Stokes said. "It was unselfish, and he ended up getting a base hit out of it with a well-placed bunt."

One out later, Veech-Dixon lined a 2-1 offering from Hantz over the right field fence for the deciding blow, leaving the Latrobe bench stunned.

"It was disappointing, and I know we had a couple opportunities where we didn't run the bases particularly well. And some of that was my fault," Latrobe coach Jason Bush said. "But championship teams put teams away. We didn't put somebody away, and they've gotten this far because they've got talent, too, and we've got to a better job of putting teams away."

Latrobe (17-5-1) opened the scoring in the top of the first, when Tony DeStefano hit a two-out homer off Martin, the West Hempfield starter.

After West Hempfield reclaimed the lead with a pair in the bottom of the inning, Latrobe answered with four in the second and chased Martin for Dubich with two more in the fourth to open up a 7-3 advantage that Veech-Dixon erased with one swing of the bat.

"These guys are a pretty resilient bunch, and we've been resilient all year," Bush said. "They never stop working hard, and they never stop believing in themselves."

Keith Barnes can be reached at kbarnes@tribweb.com or 724-543-1303 x221.