Brett McEldowney was the man of hour on the mound and at the plate as Versailles opened a season of very high expectations with an impressive win over Miami East.
Fairborn – The sun was shining brightly and it was 60 degrees at the time of the first pitch Saturday at Wright State’s Nischwitz Stadium.
The day only got better for the Versailles Tigers.
Brett McEldowney pitched five hitless innings and drove in three runs to lead the Tigers to a 4-0 season-opening win over the Miami East Vikings. Jared Heitkamp came on to retire 6 of the 7 batters he faced to complete the no-hitter.
“It was a good way to start,” said Versailles coach Ryan Schlater. “Obviously, McEldowney and Heitkamp pitched well. Offensively, we would like to have more than 7 hits, and we scored more during our scrimmages. But Miami East is a good, young team. A lot to be happy about today.”
McEldowney labored with his control early, walking a hitter and throwing 28 pitches in the first inning. He got Brandon Wilson to bounce out with two men on to end the inning, then retired 13 of the final 14 hitters he faced.
“I kept getting behind in the count in the first inning,” said the personable right-hander. “I think I had about 30 pitches in the first inning, and you don’t want that, obviously. Once I got settled in, things were much better.”
The 6-4 senior was equally dangerous at the plate, hitting a sacrifice fly in the third to put the Tigers up 2-0, then drilling a long fly ball to left with two men on in the fourth. The Miami East left-fielder fell trying to locate the ball in the sun, and McEldowney ended up on third with a two-run triple.
“It always feels good to contribute to the offense,” he smiled. “We have a lot of guys who can hit on this team. Today it was my turn.”
The Vikings of head coach Barry Coomes put a young team on the field, and they had just two base-runners after the first. Kyle Webb was hit by a pitch leading off the fifth, and Heitkamp plunked Wilson with one out in the 7th. That was the sum total of the offense for the Vikings.
McEldowney went the first five, with a walk, one hit batter and four strikeouts. He threw 78 pitches, and was ok with heading to right field for the final two innings.
“I talked to coach about it,” McEldowney said about going out for the 6th. “But I was around 80 pitches, and like coach said, there was no use throwing my arm out the first day. We have a great bullpen, and I knew Heitkamp would do the job. So I was ok with it.”
Heitkamp struck-out three over the final two innings.
Miami East pitchers probably deserved better. Steve Kirby started and allowed a second inning run on a double by Austin Knapke and a base hit by Kurtis Rutschilling, then gave up a triple to Kyle Subler leading the third, and McEldowney’s fly ball. Austin Niswonger went an inning and a third and gave up the McEldowney triple, and sophomore Austin Rutledge finished with two scoreless innings.
While Schlater was happy with the outcome and the effort, it wasn’t a perfect afternoon for the Tigers.
“We had two runners thrown out on the bases, and that is something we will definitely work on. We had a guy thrown out at the plate on a wild pitch, then got a guy picked off first late. Didn’t hurt us today, but little things like that can be costly down the road. We’ll get that fixed.”
For the afternoon, the Tigers had 4 runs on 7 hits and an error and stranded 6. The Vikings committed an error and left 4 men on base.
Both Schlater and McEldowney acknowledged that this team has high expectations.
“Very high expectations,” said the coach. “We have a lot of people back, and a lot of pitching. We have been knocked out of the tournament in the district finals the last two years, so we are definitely aiming at getting past that level this season. Our schedule is demanding, and the MAC will be challenging, just like it is every year. If we take care of business, we will get where we want to be, which is playing baseball in late May and early June.”
McEldowney didn’t have to be reminded of the Tigers post-season fates the past two years.
“Yeah, I started both of those games,” he said with a slight grimace. “That’s a personal goal of mine. We have a lot of experience on this team and we definitely want to get past that district final this year.”
Like seemingly every sport, the MAC is a loaded baseball conference.
“Coldwater has a lot of people back,” explained Schlater. “ You know St Henry will be competitive, and Fort Recovery has key people back from that team that went to state last year. Never a night off in the MAC. You have to be ready to play every single day.”
“It was nice to have the chance to play here at Wright State,” continued Schlater. “We have played here before and it’s a beautiful facility. Playing on turf is different and gives our kids another experience.”
McEldowney had the final word on the day.
“It was good to get out there today,” he said, mindful no doubt of many cooler days in his playing career. “Sixty degrees and sunshine at the end of March, it was a great day to play.”
A great day—to be a Tiger!