Blue Valley junior Alex Totta had barely played third base prior to the Kansas 6A state tournament, and only found himself there in Saturday morning’s state title game because senior starter Luke Bernard had an emergency appendectomy Tuesday.
The ball found Totta with the game — and season — on the line, and Totta responded.
Totta threw out the tying run in the top of the seventh inning, helping preserve Blue Valley’s 1-0 victory over Blue Valley Northwest at Hoglund Ballpark.
The Tigers (22-3) had been clinging to their slim lead since the first inning.
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Northwest (19-6) got a leadoff single from Drew Black to start the seventh. He advanced to second on a sacrifice, and took third on a wild pitch.
With one out, Black broke for home on contact. Totta was up to the challenge.
“I was just thinking of doing what we’ve done in practice, and make the play that was there,” Totta said. “I saw him going home, so I just threw it home. I only had a couple innings (at third) earlier in the year, but when Luke went down, I just stepped up. That could’ve easily been him. I just feel for him because he’s a great baseball player, and I had to step up.”
Northwest coach Corby Lange was fine erring on the side of aggression.
“I figured we weren’t going to get a ton of opportunities at that point. I thought Matty Miller was having a good at-bat, and I said unless it’s right at somebody, go,” Lange said. “Be aggressive and make them make the play, and they did. And we’ll live with that. You want to be aggressive there and try to force the issue.”
Blue Valley pieced together a two-out rally in the first to score the game’s lone run. Braden Petersohn capped it off by punching an RBI single to left.
Tigers juniors Jay Long and Andrew Dennis made the run hold up. Long started, and got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first that started with a dropped third strike on what would’ve been the final out of the inning.
“It was just a bad break, a ball bounced weird. Getting out of it was just huge. It was a long inning, but it gave us back the momentum,” Long said.
The first two Northwest runners reached base in the fifth. Long recorded the first out of the inning with a strikeout before handing the ball to Dennis.
“I needed to get an out there,” Long said. “My catcher Walker Kinney called a perfect pitch and I threw a perfect pitch and it worked out just right.”
Dennis logged five strikeouts in his 2 2/3 innings, and didn’t face any trouble until the seventh.
“I thought (the ball to Totta) was at least going to tie the game, but it was an insane play,” Dennis said. “It was awesome. I just needed to throw strikes and end the game.”
Northwest got six sterling innings from Scott Duensing, who struck out five and scattered six hits.
“He’s awesome. He’s been awesome all year, and for the last two years. He just goes out there and competes,” Lange said. “He’s the true definition of a pitcher.”
Blue Valley started Memorial Day weekend with its second straight baseball state title, and the sixth in program history. Tigers coach Tony Scardino now has three titles at Blue Valley, and two more at a previous stop in Oklahoma.
“I think when you’re a young coach, you think it’s about you, and it’s not about me. It’s about this,” Scardino said, motioning to the celebration along the third-base line. “It’s about these kids…”
The words were then replaced by tears. Such is the joy of a state title.