Steal of home lifts Dover by Sallies 4-3 in 9 to reach state baseball semifinals

WILMINGTON — Joe Gray eyed the Salesianum School pitcher from third base and was watching the pitcher’s mouth.

Once Gray saw the pitcher inhale, he sprinted right to the plate.

Halfway down the line, the Dover High senior thought of the nightmare scenario — what if the batter swung?

“I was like, ‘Please don’t swing,’” Gray said. “I was so scared.”

Nathan Turner took the pitch, it short-hopped the catcher and Gray sprawled headfirst across home plate. He glanced up at the umpire and saw the safe sign.

Gray’s mad dash home gave Dover the lead in the top of the ninth as the 17th-seeded Senators held on at No. 8 Salesianum 4-3 on Wednesday afternoon in an extra-inning DIAA state baseball quarterfinal.

It is the fifth time in the last six years Dover has reached the semifinals. The Senators will face Cape Henlopen, the fourth seed, at Frawley Stadium in Wilmington on Friday at 4 p.m.

While Gray’s steal of home gave Dover’s its first and only lead, it was two pitchers who kept the Senators in the game.

Hiram Davis pitched six-plus innings in relief while Dom Velazquez somehow found a way to one-up his masterful performance from Saturday’s second-round game.

Davis entered the game with one out in the bottom of the first and Sallies up 3-0. He pitched all the way to the bottom of the eighth where he gave way to Velazquez with the bases loaded and no out.

Relying exclusively on his fastball, Velazquez blew away the Sals and struck out the next three hitters to strand the potential winning run at third.

“I was just trying to work some magic,” Velazquez said. “I knew I could get ahead with the fastball and I was going to finish with it.”
“That’s probably the best outing I’ve seen him have,” said senior catcher Noah Lanouette.

Velazquez took the mound again for the ninth and picked up right where he left off. He worked around a two-out single to retire the side — all six of his outs were via the strikeout.

Velazquez was coming off a six-inning appearance on Saturday when he struck out 11 to help Dover upset top-seed William Penn.

“Every year since 2009 we’ve had a first team All-Conference pitcher,” said Dover coach Dave Gordon. “I think we’re fortunate we probably have the best one out of all of those right now,”

Dover slowly chipped away after its first-inning deficit and eventually tied the game 3-3 in the sixth inning.

Dylan Jacobs had a RBI on a fielder’s choice in the second before Chris Dabney added another for the Senators on a RBI single in the third. Velazquez tied it in the sixth with a single that glanced off the Sallies third baseman’s glove.

“You are witnessing a team that doesn’t give up and plays for each other,” Gordon said. “It’s baseball man, you don’t give up. There’s no time clock. You play until the last out or the fat lady sings or whatever. And that’s what we did. We’re the 17th seed, we’ve got nothing to lose. Everyday we fight to try to practice tomorrow and I’m proud to be their coach.”

Lanouette sparked the rally in the top of the ninth when he lifted a double into the right-centerfield gap. The Sals elected to intentionally walk Michael Carrington and Andrew Carney forced a walk of his own to load the bases.

Two strikeouts followed to send Turner to the plate. That’s when Gordon approached Gray, Lanouette’s courtesy runner, with an idea.
Gordon told Gray the pitcher would take a deep breath and once he finished, immediately begin his windup.

“I said, ‘So what does that mean?’” Gray said. “He says, ‘I want you to go.’ I was like, ‘No way.’ I was nervous, I was thinking oh my God, oh my God. He took the breath, and I just went.”

“We felt like we could have done it a couple of innings before,” Gordon said. “I had a pretty good read on the pitcher, he inhales, then exhales, and then right when he does that, he goes. So we went on the inhale.”

Davis finished with four strikeouts in his relief appearance. He entered with two on in the first and recorded back-to-back outs to strand the two runners.

Davis appeared in relief last year when Dover fell to Delaware Military in the first round, but suffered an injury and had to leave the game.

“I told them that would never happen again and I would give them all I got,” Davis said. “I didn’t care what inning it was, if we were winning or losing, I was going to give this team all I had.”

Gordon did not have any thoughts about removing Davis even after he allowed the leadoff man to reach in the bottom of the eighth.
But after a stolen base and an errant pickoff throw, the Senators had to issue two intentional walks to load the bases to set up the force at home. That’s when Gordon called for Velazquez.

Davis waited for Velazquez to come in from his third base position and handed off the ball with a simple message — “pick me up.” He got exactly what he asked for.

“He was telling me since the first inning, ‘I got your back,’” Davis said. “I gave him the ball and said, ‘Hey, now I got your’s.’ I knew he was going to get it done.”

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