Nearly four hours after opening pitch, the best sound in baseball rang out at Nationals Youth Academy Field in Southeast Washington.
The loud collision between Michael Campbell’s aluminum bat and the baseball signified many things. It meant, very clearly, that a home run had been hit. It meant that the game was over after 12 draining innings. It meant that St. John’s had just won its fifth consecutive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship. And it meant that in about two minutes, the field would be covered with discarded hats, tearful parents and long, sweaty hugs.
Campbell’s walk-off, two-run home run gave St. John’s a 6-4 victory over DeMatha in an extra-innings thriller Sunday. It was the second shocking homer in a game with enough highs and lows for an entire season.
“I really don’t have any words to describe what happened today,” St. John’s Coach Mark Gibbs said. “As a player and as a coach, that was the best game I’ve ever been a part of.”
After trouncing the Stags, 12-0, on Saturday to force a third game in the best-of-three championship series, St. John’s looked to be coasting to another win Sunday.
The Cadets entered the top of the seventh up 3-1 and got two quick outs. Several Cadets fans took their phones out, ready to record the victorious finish. Instead they captured the beginning of the madness, two hit batters and then a towering three-run home run from DeMatha’s Kai Joseph that resurrected the Stags.
Joseph, a senior pinch hitter, turned on an inside fastball and sent a rocket to left field, a home run that changed the game so suddenly that it was difficult to fully realize its implications until after it had landed.
Zach Tsakounis led off the bottom of the seventh with his third double of the day, a strange little flare to the left side that somehow evaded the outfielder, the third baseman and the shortstop. Two batters later, Dylan Hunter hit a sacrifice fly to deep left to tie the game.
“I thought I flew out to lead off. It was a ‘No, no’ moment that turned into an awesome moment,” Tsakounis said.
In extras, DeMatha clung to the tie as St. John’s consistently got runners on base. The Cadets finally appeared to have the game won in the 10th inning. There was a mob on the field and everything.
With the bases loaded, shortstop Ian Remalia lined a ball to the right side, a sure game-winner. But it hit Campbell, the runner on first base, in the leg. The apparent winning run scored, triggering the celebration, but the play was ruled dead. And with two outs and the bases still loaded, the Stags got a flyout, and, somehow, the game continued.
The strange play gave Campbell the opportunity to play hero two innings later. With Alex Warren on second and one out, the senior infielder got an inside fastball and handed his team a title.
“I knew it was gone the second I hit it,” he said. “I still can’t believe it happened.”