QUINCY — Mason Winking’s part-time job at Farm & Home Supply afforded him the opportunity last weekend to pick up some new home run bling for the Quincy Notre Dame baseball team.
Little did the Raiders know how significant the upgrade would be.
Winking purchased — he used his employee discount, an important fact for his teammates — a galvanized steel chain with a quick link that was then painted gold and made its debut as the celebratory necklace during Monday’s crosstown showdown with Quincy High School at the Ferd.
“It’s heavy,” said QND first baseman Dalton Miller, the first of three Raiders to wear it after his three-run home run in the first inning set the tone for an 8-4 victory. “It’s heavy. It kind of hits you like a train. But in the moment with the adrenaline going, you’re just glad to have a high-energy crew around you.”
The Raiders (26-2) never lack for energy, enthusiasm or joy.
Even when the lights go out, they find a way to embrace the moment.
With two outs in the top of the seventh inning and QHS’s Blake Bunch facing a 1-2 count against Miller, who had relieved Tyler Dance at the start of the frame, every bank of lights and the scoreboard went dark. The only lights that remained functional were in the left-field corner.
“If you’re around this game long enough, crazy things happen,” QND coach Ryan Oden said.
It took a little more than 10 minutes for the lights to reboot and turn back on. So while they waited, the Raiders gathered on the left side of the infield and decided to do a synchronized dance to the music blaring over the field’s loudspeakers.
“Every single time we step on this field, we have something to prove. That’s our mindset the whole time,” Miller said after the Raiders won their 17th consecutive game. “We can’t play a team. We have to play our game. And our game when we’re playing our best is playing loose.
“We try to keep high energy and high enthusiasm and get it done. Everyone has fun when we play loose.”
The home run celebration is as loose as it gets.
The Blue Devils (12-11) snared the lead in the top of the first when Luke Mettemeyer jacked a two-out solo home run to right field. It is the first time the Raiders have trailed in their last 11 games.
They didn’t trail long. Ben Kasparie led off the bottom of the inning with a single, Tucker Tollerton followed with a double and MIller launched a three-run home run to right field. It was his second home run in three games against the Blue Devils this season.
“Big momentum booster,” Miller said. “Huge.”
Alex Connoyer singled in the next at-bat and stole second base, but he was picked off by QHS right-hander Connor Schwindeler before Harry Oden crushed a solo home run to left field.
“I struggled at first, but my offense has my back at all times,” said Dance, the junior right-hander who lasted six innings. “They’re awesome.”
Despite giving up the lead, the Blue Devils didn’t flinch. They scored three times in the top of the second with Logan Eaton drawing a bases loaded walk, Kenny Taylor delivering an RBI single and Schwindeler plating another run on a fielder’s choice groundout.
“I was really happy with the energy and the effort we showed when we refused to roll over,” QHS coach Brandon Crisp said. “We battled.”
The Raiders expected that.
“Game recognizes game,” Miller said. “At the end of the day, we know what we’re capable of and they know what we’re capable of. But at the same time, they’re not just going to give it to us because we’re on a 16-game winning streak. They’re going to come out and fight just as hard as we are.”
In the bottom of the second, the Raiders took the lead for good as Jack Linenfelser scored on a throwing error, Tollerton had an RBI single and Connoyer blasted a two-run home run to left field to make it 8-4.
The Blue Devils had chances to cut into the deficit. They loaded the bases with two outs in the third inning, but Tollerton made a diving catch in short right field to end the threat.
In the fourth inning, an error, a hit batter and Grayson Cook’s one-out single loaded the bases. Noah Harbin was out on a held foul tip and Joe Schroeder grounded out to end the threat. The Blue Devils left eight runners on base overall.
“I told the guys after the game, playing against a team like that and if you’re going to beat them, you have to come through in big-time situations,” Crisp said. “In the third and the fourth innings, we kind of had them on the ropes and we just let them off the hook.”
Dance took advantage. He allowed three earned runs and six hits with two strikeouts and four walks, but he retired the final six batters he faced and eight of the final nine that came to the plate.
“My team had my back and kept me up in the dugout,” Dance said. “I struggled at first because I couldn’t get my pitches working. My defense had my back, so I wasn’t worried.”
Miller just needed to finish it off, even with the lights going out.
“I just wanted to get it over with,” said Miller, who struck out Blake Bunch to end the game. “I was in a zone. I was hot. I just wanted to get it over with. There’s no better position than being one strike away against the crosstown rivals and the chance to end it all. And then something goes wrong like that.
“It’s something I’ve never seen in my whole life playing baseball.”
The Raiders realized there’s no reason to let that ruin the moment.
“That’s my group,” Ryan Oden said. “There’s little things people don’t see in this group. Like last Friday, after our game in the (QND/Palmyra Spring Slam), one of the teams had spit seeds so I was over there picking them up. The players had gone over to have a team meal, and the next thing I know, they are all there behind me picking up seeds. That’s just their character.
“They have fun and they play loose, but they know they can count on each other.”
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