With two runners on base and a tied score in the bottom of the ninth, Brenden Stressler is in the batter’s box thinking: smart contact, don’t try to do too much.
But then he was thrown a pitch low and inside. And he likes pitches that are low and inside.
“That’s my spot,” Stressler said.
The New Trier senior put his thoughts aside and unloaded, crushing the pitch well over the outfield fence in right field for a walk-off, three-run homer to keep his team alive in the IHSA postseason.
As he rounded the bases, the celebration was on for a 9-6 Trevians’, extra-inning victory over Glenbrook North in a sectional semifinal on Thursday, June 1, at Evanston High School.
Stressler knew the ball was headed out of the park as soon as it left his bat, and he acted accordingly — with a 20-foot-high bat flip and a cinematic home-run trot with hollering teammates waiting at home plate.
“I blacked out as I was rounding the bases a bit,” Stressler said right after the heart-pounding finish. “I didn’t have any feeling.”
In the bottom of the ninth, the Trevians put their first two runners on base, as Ben Toft and Graham Mastros recorded singles.
Then, it was decision time for coach Mike Napoleon. A bunt could have gotten the winning run to third base with no outs, but he knew if that happened, the Spartans would most likely walk Stressler with an open first base.
Napoleon said it was the right pay to let Dylan Mayer hit away, and while the senior flied out, it set the stage for Stressler’s dramatics — a result that seemed improbable earlier in the contest.
The Spartans controlled the game in the early innings, consistently hitting the ball hard, leading lead to a run in both the second and third innings. They dealt the big blow in the fourth.
A single and a Trevians error resulted in two GBN baserunners when freshman sensation Ethan Bass slugged a home run to make the score 5-0 Spartans.
The score was 6-1 headed to the bottom of the fifth, when New Trier flipped the script.
In the inning, the Trevians sent nine batters to the plate and scored five runs.
Aidan Nolan started the rally with a base hit. Three batters later with the bases loaded, Mayer smoked a single to left to bring in a pair. Stressler (3-for-5, 2 2Bs, HR, 5 RBI) followed with a double to bring in two more, and with two outs, James Novakovic (2 RBI) looped a double down the left-field line to score Stressler for the game-tying run.
Senior reliever Trevor Byrnes, who was the fourth Trevians pitcher to enter the game, said when the score was 6-1, New Trier had to find their fight.
“For some of us, we knew it could be our last game ever, and we said, ‘No, we’re not going to let that happen,'” he said.
With the game tied at 6-6, Byrnes and GBN’s Kevin Geake turned it into a pitchers duel, both limiting their opposing offenses for three-plus innings.
Byrnes — whose slider induced awkward swings and plenty of soft contact — recorded his longest outing of the season with his four-and-a-third-inning performance. He allowed just one hit while striking out four — including his final batter of the night with two Spartans on base.
“That was awesome. I was so pumped up after that,” he said. “That’s the best I felt all year.”
The strikeout also led right into New Trier’s game-winning rally that ended with Stressler’s long ball.
New Trier advances to the sectional championship and a date with rival Evanston at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 3, in Evanston.
The Wildkits, the sectional’s top seed, swept the No. 2 Trevians in the regular season, earning wins of 6-0 and 7-5 (8 inn.). Evanston will likely start ace Hank Liss, while New Trier will put standout Max Kaplan on the bump, according to Napoleon.