SURPRISE - With two outs and runners on first and second base, Empire shortstop Ryan Stewart dove to his right stopping a grounder from entering the outfield. However, Fountain Hills' Paul Bryniarski did not stop running from second base and went for home.
Stewart turned and threw while on his seat but the throw was late. No. 3 Fountain Hills edged No. 13 Empire 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh inning in the Division III championship game at Surprise Stadium. It was the second loss in a championship game for the Ravens since 2010.
"When I dove, I felt a sharp pain in both of my calves," Stewart said. "I couldn't feel my legs. I couldn't move. I tried to give it my all as I saw him rounding third, but I guess he was safe."
The Ravens (24-7) scored three runs in the first inning on a bases-clearing double from sophomore second baseman Andrew Hackman. Freshman Jared Kromminga chipped in with an RBI single in the third inning.
The Falcons (29-7) scored one run in the bottom of the third inning and tied the game at four runs apiece in the bottom half of the fifth inning on two errors.
"We jumped on them early 4-0," Empire coach Tom Belter said. "Then in the fifth my two outfielders collided and dropped the ball. Next play the third baseman bobbled it. We couldn't afford to make those mistakes."
Sophomore pitcher Donny Sands threw 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts. He surrendered four earned runs on the night.
In the top of the seventh, Empire had two runners on after two Fountain Hills errors. Falcons pitcher Andrew Bryniarski intentionally walked Sands to load the bases, but Junior Connor Geurts lined out to the second baseman to to end the inning.
Bryniarski, an ASU verbal commit, pitched a complete game with seven strikeouts. At one point he retired 10 straight batters.
"He really settled down and got into his groove. He started throwing the heat above our hands and using a nice curveball on the outside," Belter said of Bryniarski's performance.
The Ravens collected seven hits. Fountain Hills strung together 10 hits in the game.
Stewart reflected on the Ravens season after the loss.
"This is the best group of kids I've even been a part of. Such a shame I have to leave," Stewart said.
"I wish I could play the rest of my life with these kids."