When a bunch of high school kids haven’t experienced something yet, it’s reasonable to wonder how they’ll react when it happens.
But for a team that hadn’t lost at home all year, the Northwestern High baseball team sure looked comfortable bouncing back.
After dropping the first game of the Class AAAA district final 7-3 to Wren Wednesday night, the Trojans roared back for an 8-0 win in the nightcap to advance to the Upper State playoffs.
“Hey, they’re high school kids, and it’s all about focus,” Northwestern coach Mitch Walters said. “I told them you play all year for this opportunity.”
The Trojans (25-3) turned to an unlikely hero in the finale, starting Chapman Gardiner on the mound in the win-or-go-home game after he pitched just 19 innings in the regular season.
Gardiner responded with a complete game, three-hit shutout, baffling Wren all night.
He grinned when asked if he was planning on such an assignment, saying his first indication was after the first one when Walters said: “Chapman’s on the bump.”
“I’ve always been that kind of pitcher, not one of the top guys,” he said. “But I got in this situation and just gave it my all.
“I guess you’d say it’s the best game I’ve ever pitched.”
He’s apt to get more opportunities, the way he mowed them down. Three of his four strikeouts on the night came in the final four outs, evidence of the confidence he built as the night wore on.
Walters admitted he was hoping for a couple of innings at first, and was impressed at the way Gardiner battled, as the whole team did.
There were no offensive outbursts, although Sammy Taormina’s bomb of a home run to right field made it 4-0 in the third, and was the first sign the Trojans were in control of this one.
In the first game, Wren was able to hand Northwestern its third defeat of the year by locking them down at the plate.
Hurricanes (19-11) pitcher Tyler Jackson allowed just three hits in the complete game, and none after a symbolic double play in the bottom of the fifth.
After Northwestern speedster Dupree Hart led off the fifth with a single, Taormina followed by smoking a low line drive to left. Wren’s Cam Gilreath made the catch however, and after a moment’s confusion, Hart was picked off. Digging from the moment of contact, Hart had rounded second and was headed to third, but then went straight back to first after the catch without touching second on his way back. That made him an easy out, even after he deked the Wren infield.
At that point, the Trojans looked humbled and listless, with the next seven batters going quietly in order.
Gardiner’s double in the fourth was Northwestern’s only extra-base hit of the first game.
Meanwhile, Wren battered Trojans starter Kyle James, handing him his first loss of the year by scoring four in the third inning and three more in the fifth.
WP - Tyler Jackson; LP - Kyle James (6-1). Leading hitters: Wren: Eli White 3-for-4, Erven Roper 2-for-4, 3 RBI.
Records: Northwestern 24-3, Wren 19-10
WP - Chapman Gardiner (4-0); LP - Chase Day. Leading hitters: Northwestern: Dupree Hart 2-for-4; Sammy Taormina 2-for-2, HR.