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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As if it couldn’t get any colder, righthander Nick Thwaits and the Fort Recovery bullpen put some additional chill to the Versailles Tigers, handing them their first loss Tuesday…in extra innings.

Versailles – Two things to consider.

For anyone who questions whether global warming is upon us…you weren’t sitting outside Tuesday afternoon in Versailles for the titanic baseball clash between Fort Recovery (10-3) and Versailles (7-1).  Email Al Gore (he invented the internet, you know) and tell him how much fun it is to wear your Carhartts in April.

And two, lest anyone wonder how easy its going to be for any of the presumptive baseball favorites in the Midwest Athletic Conference to walk away with the league crown, Fort Recovery’s Nick Thwaits, Cade Wendel, and Ben Homan combined for an nine inning, 2-1 win over previously unbeaten Versailles, limiting the Tigers to just three hits in the process.

Thwaits (pronounced Tw-ates), a Kent State recruit this coming fall, was at his absolute best, giving up just one hit over the first five innings, striking out 11 of the 15 outs he faced, and didn’t walk a batter.  His fastball was consistently in the 88-90 mph range, but his breaking pitch was even more devastating…along with his ability to throw it for a strike at any point in the count.

“He’s worked on that pitch a lot,”  said Recovery coach Jerry Kaup of the curveball.  “He really threw well tonight.  He’s a very talented young man, and a joy to have on your team, and he’s a lot of fun to come out and watch when he pitches like he did tonight.”

And to his own credit, you can make that same case for Versailles starter and Ohio State recruit, Cole Niekamp, who actually outlasted Thwaits, pitching the first eight innings, allowing no runs on five hits.  He struck out seven and walked two.

“When you get a couple of good pitchers like that tonight you have to get ’em quick,”  added Kaup.  “Because if they get settled in they’re going to be hard to beat.”

But…both teams had early chances – Recovery leaving a runner on third base (Cade Wendel) in the first inning;  and Versailles stranding Kurt Rutschilling on third in the bottom of the inning.  Neither team could get the needed hit to push a run across, and in Kaup’s words, it got tougher as the innings passed.

Recovery’s Nick Thwaits struck out 11 of the 15 outs he recorded.

Recovery had runners on base in the fourth and fifth, but both times Niekamp coolly recorded the final out with a strikeout in the fourth…and a routine popup in the fifth.

Versailles wasn’t so fortunate.  Thwaits literally mowed through the Tigers order, striking out the side in the second, and two of their three outs in the first, third, the fourth, and fifth innings.

Kaup took Thwaits down to start the sixth and replaced him with Cade Wendel, who not as efficient as Thwaits, was equally effective, pitching 3.1 innings to gain the win, allowing just one run on four hits.  He struck out six during his time on the mound – as Versailles combined struck out 17 times in the game.

Likewise, Versailles’ Ryan Schlater replaced Niekamp at the end of eight innings with Keaton McEldowney, who promptly ran into trouble to start the ninth.

First baseman Reese Rogers, the individual hitting star of the game, with three hits, led off with his third single of the game;  and on a game-turning play at first base, Rogers appeared to be picked off first base, and never actually got back to the bag on the play…but was ruled safe.  Kody Shinaberry then walked.  Both runners moved up on a sac bunt, and then designated hitter Ian Homan flaired a two-RBI single into right field, scoring both Rogers and Shinaberry to take a 2-0 lead.

Wendel came out to close things out in the bottom of the ninth, but was touched for a one-out double by second baseman Andrew Demange.  Demange moved to third on a passed ball by Shinaberry, and then scored on a ground ball error by Ben Homan.  Kaup came to the mound and changed pitchers, bringing on Ben Homan, the shortstop, to retire the final two outs.

Cole Niekamp had the tough  luck of pitching eight innings of four-hit baseball, only to have his team come up short, 2-1.

Homan induced Noah Richard to ground out, catcher to first, walked Cole Niekamp intentionally, and with runners at first and third popped up Zach Griesdorn to center field for the final out.

It was a typical Recovery win, for those who have seen, or who are yet to see them play.  They won it with pitching and defense…and long enough to figure out a way to score.

Reese Rogers collected half their total of six hits, and admitted…it was a tough day to hit Cole Niekamp in the 34-degree game time temperatures.

“Oh man, that was tough against Cole (Niekamp), because I’ve been around him all my life.  I had success against him last year, and I just tried to put the ball in play.  That’s what coach asks us to do.  Limit strikeouts and put the ball in play and see what they can do.”

But by far the greatest impression was made by Thwaits, who while he didn’t get credit for the win, had a lot to do with the win by simply chilling the Versailles batting order for the first five innings.

“The breaking pitch felt good today,” he said.  “It’s something that I’ve really worked on, to be more consistent with it in the game…and to have that pitch so I can throw it at any place in the count.  It was good day for me because they’re a good team.  They’re going to make some noise in the tournament, but today I was throwing all my pitches for strikes and it felt good.”

Conversely, Ryan Schlater would lament that his own pitcher, Cole Niekamp, deserved a better outcome for his eight innings of work.  Except for fewer strikeouts, he was no less effective than Thwaits.

“It’s was one of the better games he’s EVER thrown for us,”  said Schlater, suffering his first loss after seven wins.  “But today was a good high school baseball game…a good baseball game, period.  It’s just a shame to come up on the wrong end of things like that.  Their bullpen pitched really well after Thwaits came out – we had our opportunities in the first inning, in the seventh, and in the ninth – but we just couldn’t come through with the big hit today.

Somewhere, Kent State pitching coach Mike Birkbeck is likely to read and smile as he considers what Nick Thwaits did, his command and competitive attributes on such a miserable day.  After all, Thwaits credits Birkbeck as the reason he decided to go to Kent State…to become an even better pitcher at the hand of one of the nation’s best tutors.  Eleven strikeouts in 34 degree weather is a pretty good platform from which to begin…as he put the chill on Versailles on Tuesday.

As for global warming baseball…Al Gore wouldn’t get it.  Never has!

Ft. Recovery caught a break in the ninth when Reese Rogers never reached the bag on a pickoff attempt..and was ruled safe. He later scored.

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