Late inning situation, a tight game, against a tough opponent in a win-or-go-home tournament environment? No problem, the Jonathan Alder baseball team has been in this spot before and knows how to handle it.
The Pioneers (23-5) never panicked, never even blinked in the face of adversity. Their laser-like focus and big-game experienced paid off when they scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and survived a 3-0 victory in a Division II Central District tournament semifinal against Big Walnut on Tuesday, May 20, at St. Francis DeSales High School.
The 3-0 victory sends No. 2 seed Alder to yet another district championship game at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 22, at Beavers Field in Lancaster against No. 3 Bexley.
“Good teams find a way to win,” Alder coach Craig Kyle said. “I told them earlier the best team doesn’t always win, it doesn’t matter who has the best talent. It’s the team that plays the best, who makes the fewest mistakes and who takes care of the little things.
“We didn’t do it for a while, but when it counted we did, that’s just a testament to these guys. They’re competitors and have a never-say-die attitude. (Big Walnut) played a helluva game and I tip my cap to them. But we made a few more plays and that’s what it came down to.”
Alder entered the bottom of the sixth without having done much offensively. The team struggled all game to move runners when they did get them on base, and failed to deliver the big hit. The Pioneers are usually strong in such areas, but the Eagles’ Kyle Duncan did a good job of keeping them bottled up until the sixth.
Bret Yutzy grounded out to start the frame, then Casey Graber followed with a single. Jon Peters attempted to sacrifice bunt Graber to second, but he popped up the bunt which was caught by Big Walnut third baseman Jacob Evans for out No. 2.
Trent Kaltenbach stepped to the plate with two outs and singled, to put Pioneers at first and second with two outs. That brought Luke Nees came to bat, he expected to get a first pitch fastball. He got it and didn’t swing. But on the next pitch he got the pitch he was looking for and hit it sharply into left for a single, allowing Graber to score from second.
Up 1-0 Scott Peters, who had struck out in each of his first two at-bats, fought off a tough pitch and dropped it just inside fair territory down the first base line. Kaltenbach and Nees both scored on the hit and the Pioneers were up 3-0.
Alder starting pitcher Tanner Gaerke, came out for the seventh inning and continued to do what he had done for the first six innings, keep the Eagles off-balance with his dizzying array of pitches.
“He’s crafty,” Kyle said. “He throws strikes, he gets ahead and he hits his spots. No one ever really hits him hard because he moves it around in the zone and he can throw any pitch in any count and that’s rare in high school.
“Most kids have to throw fastballs when they’re behind in the count or when it’s 3-2, but tonight he threw a 3-2 curveball to strike a kid out looking.”
Gaerke did his best work when it mattered most. The Eagles loaded the bases in the second inning thanks to a couple of uncharacteristic defensive mistakes by his teammates. Kyle came to the mound to give a few choice words of encouragement and Gaerke was able to entice a groundout to end the threat.
“I told them to relax, everybody take a deep breath,” Kyle said. “I think everybody was so uptight and not wanting to make a mistake and you can’t play like that you’ve got to take it to them. We were kind of on our heels waiting for something bad to happen. I didn’t do any coaching I just told them to relax.
“That was huge because you never know what’s going to happen in a game like this if they score early,” Kyle said
Chris Miles can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 18 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.