BY ANDY ROWER | MIRROR SPORTS — A third-inning run was all it took for the Anthony Wayne baseball team to advance to the Division I Ohio baseball finals at the Columbus Clippers’ Hunt-ington Park with a 1-0 semifinal shutout of No. 7 Mason on June 1.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Generals starting pitcher Brock Nartker. “I don’t really know how to describe it. It’s just unreal.”
With the right-handed Nartker having just forced the Comets to strand four runners on base during the game’s first two innings with timely strikeouts, the senior got the Generals offense going with a one-out single in the bottom of the third.
Sophomore designated hitter Hogan Heck followed with an infield single, allowing senior centerfielder Nick Schneider to plate junior pinch runner Jacob Neumeyer with AW’s fourth base hit of the afternoon.
“I got down 0-2 quick, but I felt confident at the plate,” Schneider said. “I just put it between third and short and it went through and that’s all it took today.
“For me personally, it’s insane. It’s a lot of fun. To play for a state championship my senior year with a bunch of my friends is something many people dream of.”
Anthony Wayne went on to get a fourth-inning walk by senior catcher Brady Theis and sixth-inning singles from junior leftfielder Connor Judy and senior third baseman Steve Haugh, but was unable to add to its slim lead – partly due to a pair of nice catches by Mason senior first baseman Ben Kraus and sophomore rightfielder Harrison Johnson.
Meanwhile, the Comets threatened in each of the final three frames.
They got junior catcher Joe Powell to second base in the fifth following a two-out single, sophomore centerfielder Cole Harting to third base after a ground-rule double in the sixth and junior pinch runner Nick Niehoff to third on the heels of a hit batter in the seventh.
Each time, however, the Generals managed to end the threat.
Nartker closed the fifth out with his sixth and final strikeout, served up a pair of groundouts to end the sixth and senior reliever Andrew Murphy induced a fly-out to right field – after intentionally walking the 2018 Gatorade Ohio Baseball Player of the Year in senior third baseman Nick Northcut – to end the game.
“It was a struggle, but looking back at it now – it was really fun,” Nartker said. “I wanted to finish it, but I believed in Murph and that he was going to finish it and he did.”
Mason totaled five walks over the first two stanzas, but the combination of Theis catching the first batter leading off second base in the first and a pair of Nartker strikeouts – his second-inning one coming on an 86-mph fastball – kept any real damage from being done.
Senior Will Pfennig took the unfortunate loss after surrendering a run on six hits and a walk, while striking six batters out over six innings.
“He was hitting his spots and his off-speed pitches were very good,” Judy said.
Northcut walked in all four of his at-bats and the Comets ended up stranding nine runners on base.
“We were not going to let (Northcut) beat us,” said AW baseball coach Mark Nell. “He’s one of the best players in America.”
Nartker earned the win after allowing two hits, eight walks and a hit batter over 6.1 innings and Murphy earned the save.
“I don’t know if that’s ever happened before,” Nell said of winning despite so many free passes. “I will tell you that Brock is a high walk guy. You have to have patience. He couldn’t find command with his fastball and he started going to his breaking ball.
“He started commanding that very well and kept them off balance. That’s one heck of a baseball team over there. Those kids can swing the bats.”
Judy led all batters in the game by going 2-for-3 with a pair of singles and also made a fantastic catch that led to a 9-6-5-double play in the top of the third.
“When Connor made a huge play out in right field and then Murph threw the guy out at third, that was huge,” Nartker said. “Every-one played very good defense today and that picked me up a lot. I don’t think I would have gotten through the game without them.”
Judy called the experience of advancing to the state championship game “unbelievable.”
“It was a great team effort by everyone,” he said. “The pitching was solid, the defense was good and we managed to get a run on the board.”
The victory enabled the Generals to add another step to their school-record run.
“Our goal was to come here and do something and now we’re going to the big game,” Nell said.