By Mike Meiler
Trailing by three with two outs and runners on first and third in the bottom of the 10th inning of his team’s Class A Far West Regional game Tuesday night at Sal Maglie Stadium, Grand Island coach Dean Santorio made a move that was puzzling to anyone unfamiliar with his team.
Santorio took one of his fastest runners, C.J. Fadel, off third base in favor of seldom-used Matt Lenz, one of the bigger players on the team.
As outsiders looked around, puzzled as to why Santorio would make the move, the Grand Island faithful slowly rose to their feet to give the pinch runner a standing ovation.
Lenz’s father, Ken, passed away last Friday, less than a day after the Vikings’ Section VI Class A final win over Albion, due to complications from cancer. All of the Vikings attended his funeral the morning before their regional game.
“I had to get Matt out there,” Santorio said. “I thought that might be my last opportunity to get him in the game, and I was just hoping he would score a run.”
In the next at bat, senior John Voyzey lined his fifth hit of the game into left field. As Lenz crossed home plate, he was greeted by injured star John McGinty, who gave him a hug. Other teammates followed suit, and the crowd rose to its feet again as Lenz entered the dugout.
“It feels great,” said a soft-spoken Lenz, clearly at a loss for words. “That’s the first time ever I’ve pinch ran. It’s been great to have my teammates around.”
The Vikings came back to win the game on senior pitcher Dylan Kelly’s walk-off single. Lenz was given the game ball and was pulled to the center of the team’s photos. His brother, Phil, was called out of the stands to join the team.
“I’ve known them for a long time, maybe 10 years,” Kelly said. “His dad coached me in little league. Matt’s a great kid. He’s always there for us on the bench and it was good to be there for him.”
Santorio said the support for Lenz speaks to his team’s camaraderie.
“You know, there are always guys who don’t see as much playing time as other guys,” he said. “It really shows how much these guys care about each other. Everyone is as big a part of the team as the next guy.”
The Vikings continue their run through the postseason today when they travel to Union Endicott High School, near Binghamton, for the state championships.