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Haar Win a Thriller, then Renault Races Back 

Haar Disciples pitcher Luke Steinlein follows through on a pitch while third baseman Mitch Stephan gets ready for a possible fielding play in Game 1 of the playoffs against Solingen. Haar won the first game 7-6 with Stephan getting the game-winning hit.
Photo: Douglas Sutton

The Haar Disciples pulled off a last-inning 7-6 victory against heavily-favored Solingen Alligators as German baseball’s post-season championship playoffs got underway on Saturday. Things didn’t go to plan in the second game though, as their former pitcher Nick Renault handed them a crushing 8-0 defeat.

Solingen (23-5 for the regular season), which won the Bundesliga-North division title, got a rare taste of defeat when the Disciples (16-12 for the regular season - 4th place Bundesliga-South) scored 4 runs in their last at bat in a thrilling come-from-behind win.

Mitch Stephan was the final hero in an inning of clutch performances up and down the Haar batting lineup. Stephan laced a line drive over the rightfielder’s head to knock in the winning run.

Solingen had controlled everything until Haar’s final two innings at bat. The Alligators, supported by the strong pitching of German national team hurler Andre Hughes, had a 5-1 lead through seven innings. But Hughes tired in the 8th inning, giving up 2 runs and with a runner still on base with only one out.

Greek-American pitcher Theon Bourdaniotis came in for Solingen and immediately nullified the threat, getting Haar’s Klaus Nikolici to hit into an inning-ending double play.

After Lukas Steinlein had gone a gutsy eight innings pitching for Haar, veteran hurler Francis Garcia came in for the ninth. Solingen added a further run for a 6-3 lead, and they appeared poised for another victory.

But Haar had other ideas, putting their first four men on base with 2 hits and 2 walks issued by Bourdaniotis. Batter by batter and run-by-run, they narrowed the gap. Cedric Bassel drew a bases-loaded walk to narrow the score to 6-4. Then Lukas Steinlein hit a sacrifice fly to make it 6-5. Josh Petersen hit a grounder that forced a runner out at second, but enabled the runner at third to score for the tying run at 6-6, with Petersen reaching first on the play.

With 2 outs, a further out would have sent the game into extra innings. But relief pitcher Bourdaniotis hit Chris Ziegler with a pitch, putting him on base and moving Petersen into scoring position at second base.

That brought Stephan up to the plate and, after fouling off a couple pitches, he slammed a line drive that carried just over the outstretched glove of Solingen rightfielder Robin Drache. Petersen came in to score the winning (7-6) run, while his teammates raced onto the field to mob Stephan. Solingen’s players walked off the field with their heads bowed.

“That was a real heart-stopper,” said Haar head coach Keith Maxwell afterwards. “My guys just didn’t quit.”

Haar’s elation later gave way on to some sobering up in game two. A hoped-for “pitchers’ duel” between the Americans Renault and Brian Fields for Haar lasted three scoreless innings until Solingen got on the board in the fourth for a 1-0 lead. The best offensive team in the Bundesliga-North division added 2 more runs in the fifth and then broke the game open with 5 runs – including a 3-run homer by Dustin Hughes - in the seventh inning for an 8-0 lead.

Renault, meanwhile, completely shut down the Haar offense. Through 6-2/3 innings he had a no-hitter going, until Stephan spoiled it with a single. A line drive out followed for the third and final out of the seventh inning.

As it turned out, that would be the final official out of the game. Solingen did take their at-bat in the top of the eighth, going down quickly. But before Haar could go to bat in the inning, the umpires ordered everyone off the field as a severe lightning-and-thunderstorm struck, blackening the skies and pelting the field with rain.

The Haar batters were probably relieved not to have to face Renault again. In his seven innings of work he struck out 13, gave up a single hit and allowed just two other baserunners, on a walk and a hit batter.

In Solingen next weekend in the best-of-five playoff format, Haar now have an uphill battle ahead of them. The winner of this playoff series would face either the Paderborn Untouchables or Heidenheim Heideköpfe in the semi finals. Heidenheim are in the driving seat in their playoff match-up, having won both games of the series in Paderborn (7-5 and 14-12).

In other first-round playoff action on Saturday, the three-times defending champions Regensburg Legionäre swept a doubleheader away against the Hamburg Stealers, 8-1 and 5-0. The Bonn Capitals and Mainz Athletics split their series in Mainz, Bonn winning the first game 9-8 and Mainz the nightcap 7-1.

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