It was close, it was dramatic, and there was an air of regret thrown in…as Ft. Recovery advanced to Saturday’s Division IV district final with a win over St. Henry.
Coldwater – It was the way Jerry Kaup likes to win tournament baseball games, just not the circumstance he prefers.
Ft. Recovery, behind another dominating pitching performance by sophomore Nick Thwaits, beat MAC rival St. Henry Wednesday afternoon, 2-0, to advance to Saturday’s district final round. The Indians will then meet another MAC rival, Minster, who advanced later in the day Wednesday with an equally dramatic 2-1 win over Convoy Crestview.
Drama? With a 2-0 lead Ft. Recovery sophomore Nick Thwaits carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against St. Henry and lost his bid for distinction when the Redskins’ second baseman Parker Link poked a clean single into left field with two out to break the hitless spell and eventually put runners in scoring position at second and third with two out.
But Thwaits, with two outs, gathered himself to induce Nathan Lefeld to ground out to shortstop for the final out of the game. Ft. Recovery (19-8) rode what has been its prohibitive pitching and air-tight defense to Saturday’s district final round.
But there was another, different kind of drama that beset St. Henry in the bottom of the first inning.
After Thwaits led off the inning for Recovery with a ringing double to the gap in left center, Cade Wendel drove him in with a single to center field. And when the ensuing hitter, Jackson Hobbs, grounded out for the second out and Wendel tried to advance to third base. With no one covering the bag, St. Henry pitcher Mitchel Stammen rushed over to take a throw and retire Wendel who was attempting to advance. Stammen, the MAC Conference Player of The Year, applied the tag in time for the out, but got tangled in the process and went down in a heap, wrenching his leg, and in obvious pain. He was done for the day with an undisclosed injury to either his ankle or knee, and was helped from the field.
If it didn’t change the outcome of the game, it certainly changed the complexion. St. Henry coach John Dorner went to his bullpen and junior Matt Siefring, but the loss of the Redskins’ best pitcher, and best player, cast a pall over the proceedings and their chances for success.
“I hated to see that happen,” said Recovery coach Jerry Kaup. “Mitchel Stammen is our conference player of the year and a great competitor. You never want to win a game like this at the expense of such a misfortune, and as it happened Matt Siefring came in and did a great job. They had us scouted, knew how they wanted to pitch to us, and Siefring did a good job.”
Still, it could not diminish the performance of Thwaits, who besides his one-hit gem, had three hits, was on base four times, and scored a run.
“Nick is an all-around baseball player,” said Kaup. “Tonight he was able to keep St. Henry on their heels from the mound, and offensively he’s a spark for us. He takes great at bats. He doesn’t chase bad pitches, and gets us into a good offensive flow where we can complement with the rest of our lineup.”
It marked the latest impressive performance by Thwaits, whose raw talent at this stage of his career portends even better things down the road. And is often the case with near no-hitters, he had no idea until the fifth inning.
“I really had no idea until my third at bat,” he admitted. “Someone was yelling out of the dugout about it. They said that I had more hits personally than they had combined. It was a pretty special day. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to a no-hitter. I had a pretty good fastball, didn’t have the command of the other pitches that I would have liked, and when I needed an out I just relied on the fastball. That’s what I’ve always done.
“My defense was great, and Jacob Homan is just having a great year. When it’s hit to him you can rely on him making a play.”
Thwaits made that first inning run stand up until the bottom of the sixth when a leadoff single by Ben Homan, a sacrifice bunt by Ross Homan, and an RBI single by Will Homan pushed across an insurance runs. Per capita, Ft. Recovery plays more Homans than any other school in the state…Jacob, Ben, Ross, and Will, and collectively those four went five for eleven Wednesday, and scored a run.
“This time of year I talk about pitching and defense,” said Kaup afterwards. “And today we made plays. Offensively, we had some opportunities and we didn’t get it done in the fourth and fifth innings, and you’re only gonna’ get so many chances. But we kept playing hard and we made some plays defensively. And fortunately for us, Nick Thwaits erased some of those mistakes. He took care of them today.”
It took a snappy hour and thirty one minutes…Recovery, with 2 runs, 8 hits, and one error advances. St Henry, with no runs, 1 hit, and the empty feeling of what might have been had Mitch Stammen not gotten hurt, is left to wonder.
In the day’s second game at Coldwater Minster advance with a gritty 2-1 win over Convoy Crestview, a game in which the two-time state champion Wildcats had their own issues with taking advantage of missed opportunities.
And like Ft. Recovery, they lived (and almost died) with the pitching effort of senior Josh Nixon, who threw a hundred pitches, struck out only two, walked two, balked a runner into scoring position, and just generally hung on for the win.
“That was probably the biggest battle I’ve ever had,” said Nixon afterwards. “It’s always that way when you play Crestview. They’re a solid team and I lost the first two of these games to them this way. Today I came out with the win so it’s a good feeling.
In a word, every pitch appeared to be a struggle for the University of Dayton bound Nixon.
“I didn’t have an offspeed pitch after the third inning,” he said. “I relied on my fastball and we battled. That’s the positive to take from this game.”
For coach Mike Wiss, he knows he dodged a bullet after leaving the bases loaded in each of the fifth and sixth innings when the Wildcats could have broken the game open with a base hit.
“We got those two runs in the fourth after their pitcher left with a hamstring pull,” he said. “And sometimes when we score we just go into retire mode. We had our opportunities in the sixth with the bases loaded and no outs and the top of our order coming to the plate…seniors! We left a small army on base tonight.”
And it sets up a familiar scenario for Minster, who left the tournament last year in the district round to the same Ft. Recovery team they’ll face in Saturday’s final.
“We watched things from the runner-up dugout last year,” said Wiss. “And I told the kids then that I thought we had the talent to come back this year and be in the winning dugout.”
They’ll get that chance on Saturday at 1 pm, facing Ft. Recovery and Jackson Hobbs with a trip to the regional round of the tournament on the line.
“You have to find a way at this time of the year,” said Kaup, assessing his team’s day and the prospects for Saturday…but with one significant and obvious caveat. “We’re thrilled to be there. But I hope that Mitch Stammen is not injured seriously.”
Those were Jerry Kaup’s final words.