Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

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Pitching and defense ruled as Versailles goes to St. Henry and leaves with not a perfect game…but a perfect winning scenario.

St. Henry –  In his previous outing last week St. Henry senior Mitchel Stammen did what ever pitcher dreams of…what Harvey Haddix did to forever put his name in the record books on May 26, 1959, in Milwaukee.

Stammen pitched a perfect game in the Redskins’ win over Minster, the first and only that any one could remember this week in the long and notable history of St. Henry baseball.  No-hitters, yes.  Perfect games?  Questionable.

And for the first three innings of Tuesday’s contest with Versailles he looked like he was still in “perfect” mode.

Stammen retired the first nine hitters without giving up a hit, struck out six, and had two assists.  He looked, well…unhittable.

He also looked unbeatable for the fact that St. Henry had scratched out an unearned run in the bottom of the first inning off Versailles starter Brett McEldowney, a tall 6’5″ righthander whose fastball has that cruising sensation, like being on the highway.  You don’t feel like you’re going 85, but you are.

But Versailles sandwiched a walk, a pair of hits, and a botched rundown play with runners on second and third into a run in the top of the fourth to tie the game at 1-1…and let the drama set in.

One after one, hitters from both teams came to the plate and went back to the bench.  Those that didn’t strike out were retired by some sterling efforts by the respective defenses in the field.

Through the fifth….

Through the sixth…

Mitchel Stammen started out in 'perfection' mode, striking out six in the first three innings.

Mitchel Stammen started out in ‘perfection’ mode, striking out six in the first three innings.

And in the bottom of the sixth St. Henry actually loaded the bases with one out and had a chance to take the lead, and the presumptive win, with Stammen on the mound and in control for Versailles’ last at bat in the top of the seventh inning.

But designtated hitter Curt Uhlenhake took a called third strike to leave the sacks jammed and the game moved to the seventh.

Like McEldowney, Mitchel Stammen has a sneaky fastball – a drop-and-drive kind of delivery that gets on top of you before you realize.  His pitch of choice, though, the “great equalizer”, as the old folks called it, is the curveball.  He’s got a great one, one of the knee-buckling kind that breaks late and with a lot depth.  Even if you’re looking for it it’s downward track is so abrupt that only the best hitters can guess where the contact point will be in the strike zone.

Stammen had abused Versailles hitters all day long with the curve, and it hadn’t taken long.  Entering the top of the seventh inning Tuesday, the game stood at a snappy one hour, seven minutes.

But Versailles led off with a base hit and four hitters later found themselves with the bases loaded with one out and third baseman Austin Knapke at the plate.  Knapke, in particular, had struggled against Stammen and knew that he would see a steady diet of breaking pitches…even with the bases loaded.

Versailles's Cole Niekamp turns a double play over St. Henry runner Evan Lefeld.

Versailles’s Cole Niekamp turns a double play over St. Henry runner Evan Lefeld.

He did, one after another…called strike, foul ball, a couple out of the strike zone, a fastball that he fouled, and a 2-2 pitched that dipped low and away.  With the count 3-2 he was still expecting the curve.  AND HE GOT IT…except this one wasn’t vintage Stammen, a hanger up in the zone and Knapke had just enough presence to punch at it and slap it into right field.  Standing 90 feet away on third, pitcher Brett McEldowney could hardly believe his eyes.  He came dancing across the plate with the go ahead run.

Determined to make it stand, he promptly went out in bottom of the inning and retired St. Henry for a 2-1 win!

“What a game,”  said Versailles coach Ryan Schlater.  “I had told Brett during the game that if we get a couple of runs we’ve got a chance to win, and that’s tough to do against Stammen.  The crazy thing…he had pitched on Saturday and I was worried about his pitch count today.  We started out thinking of it as him getting his bullpen work between starts, but be was so good, and so in the zone, and got outs.

“With Stammen he’s a guy that can throw the curve for a strike at any place in the count.  You can’t expect a fastball in a 3-1 count.  You have to be ready for the big breaking curve and it really makes him tough to hit.  It’s really tough to put good ‘aluminum’ on the ball against him.”

Stammen finished with 12 strikeouts, gave up just four hits, and by every right deserved to win.  But that’s baseball.

And so’s this.  Brett McEldowney finished with 10 strikeouts, walked one, and gave up six hits to earn the win.

“It was a great feeling,”  said Big Mac, accepting the congratulations of his coaches and teammates.  “Stammen’s one of the toughest pitchers around.  I’ve known him and played against him since we were kids.  It’s a big win for us and big for our momentum.  It really felt good from the beginning.  Kyle Subler did a great job for me behind the plate.  I hardly shook him off all day…and then for Austin to come up with the big hit at the end.  I’d been waiting for that all game.  We got guys on but we just couldn’t come up with the hit to get ’em in.  He hit it where it was thrown…and shot it out to right field.”

Austin Knapke has very little to say…very little, even in his brightest moments of competition.  But his eyes sparkled over the triumph of finally coming through for his team when it mattered most, and against a pitcher who had owned him all day.

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“He (Stammen) made me look pretty stupid my first two at bats,”  said the junior third baseman, a converted shortstop who made a pair of dazzling plays throughout the game.  “I knew what was coming, but the one I hit was finally up where I could hit it.  I wasn’t trying to do too much, I just wanted to push it through the right side of the infield.”

As it turned out he did just enough.

Final box.  Versailles had 2 runs on 4 hits and committed an error.  To give you an idea of how closely it was played…St. Henry had 1 run, had 6 hits, and committed an error.

McEldowney, a great performer in basketball throughout his four years at Versailles, admitted that it was an ultimate moment in competition.

“My dad (his basketball coach) probably won’t appreciate that,”  he laughed.  “But this was really fun – a great win for our team.”

MAC_logo2insetVersailles, now 9-1, awaits another such challenge come Thursday.  State semi-finalist Ft. Recovery comes to town with a pitcher that throws the curve.  But it remains to be seen if that game can top Tuesday – if it can top McEldowney vs. Stammen.

Can you play six innings in 67 minutes?

Can it be that good?

Go see for yourself.  How could you get more…for free?

Austin Knapke punch a high breaking pitching into right field to drive in the winning run in the top of the seventh.

Austin Knapke punched a high breaking pitching into right field to drive in the winning run in the top of the seventh.

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