Pitching in a big game with the season on the line, you’d expect high intensity and lots of stress right? Not if you’re Jonathan Alder pitcher Tanner Gaerke.
The cool, calm, collected righty with ice water running through his veins never got rattled, never flinched in the face of adversity, never once showed any type of negativity even when things weren’t going his way and now he and his Pioneers teammates will play for a Division II state championship following a 3-1 semifinal victory over Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin on Friday, June 6, at Huntington Park in Columbus.
Gaerke isn’t over-powering, doesn’t throw the ball by many batters, isn’t wildly overwhelming, but is delightfully crafty and resourceful and he’s a big reason Alder will be making a second straight trip to the D-II state final. He was masterful in pitching out of trouble, refusing to give the Lions (17-12) much of anything to work with.
“You follow your pitcher and if he’s out there throwing a fit everybody else takes on that attitude,” Alder coach Craig Kyle said. “Tanner does a good job of leading, he’s not a vocal guy, but he talks with his actions and everybody follows his lead.”
Gaerke went the distance on the hill, scattered 10 hits and struck out five, while walking just one. He admits that even he feels butterflies when pitching in big moments, but has found a way to suppress them and just do his job.
“I kept throwing strikes and let my defense do the work,” he said. “I was a little nervous, but I just kept on counting down the outs nine to go, six to go, three to go.
“I may be nervous but I just try to keep it down, if (teammates) see me nervous they may get down. I just want to stay confident and do what I need to do. I noticed a couple of their guys getting frustrated, but I kept going, kept doing what I’ve been doing all year.”
The frustration on the ND-CL side could have come from the fact that even though he doesn’t throw hard, no one can seem to make good, solid contact against the Alder hurler.
“He thought he was pitching a little league game at Plain City Park,” Kyle said. “He’s so even-keeled and crafty, he doesn’t blow anybody away, he throws strikes and hits spots.”
The Pioneers (28-4) scored all of their runs in one big inning. In the bottom of the fourth Scott Peters led off with a single to left, Cody Rankin went to sacrifice bunt Peters to second. Rankin squared, got the bunt down, Lions’ starting pitcher Ryan Falls fielded it but and his throw to second was wide off the bag for an error. A failed sacrifice bunt by Mitchell Eye forced Peters at third and Alder still trailed 1-0.
Zach Ary then delivered an RBI single and Casey Graber came through with a key two-run single to make it 3-1 Pioneers.
“We tried to put pressure on them with the bunt, we bunted a couple back to the pitcher which isn’t like us,” Kyle said. “But we got runners on and and one of our senior leaders stepped up in the biggest game of his career and gets a two-out single to get us a lead. That’s a testament to him and what kind of kid he is. He proved the moment wasn’t too big for him and he delivered.”
Two errors and a wild pitch, uncharacteristic mistakes by the Pioneers, allowed ND-CL to score its only run in the top of the third inning.
On a routine single to center by the Lions’ Ryan Proud bounced over the glove of the Alder centerfielder Ary, allowing the base runner to get to second. A batter later, Austin Jackson hit a hot shot grounder to Pioneers’ senior shortstop Luke Nees who misplayed the ball, it caromed off his glove and into the outfield, which allowed Proud to score from second, making it 1-0 ND-CL.
“My kids are composed,” the Alder coach said. “This game will eat you up if you let it. We’re always try to turn a negative into a positive, in that inning we had two errors and they could have come in here and easily let it get to them, but they didn’t.
“Our kids are competitors that’s why we’ve been here four of the last five years and why we’re playing for another state championship.”
The Pioneers will face Bloom-Carroll at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 7, back at Huntington Park. The Bulldogs easily dispatched of Sandusky Perkins 10-0 in the other D-II semifinal. Like Alder, B-C lost in a state championship game last year, falling in the D-III title tilt. One of the Central District teams will have its season end again one game short of the title again.
“We talk about it,” Kyle said of last year’s title-game defeat. “Last year we told them to look at the dog pile that Defiance had (following the win), we said think about how close you were. They remember. We talked about wanting to get back here first, everybody thinks its easy to get here but its not. We believe. We came down here to win two games, some how some way.”
Chris Miles can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 18 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.