BROOKVILLE â€”Â Junior Nathan St. Laurent was just shy of a perfect game, giving up only one hit and one walk, leading the Brookville Raiders (13-5) to a 9-0 victory over Moniteau (11-8) Wednesday night.
"It's the first one I've had this year, and it felt really nice to actually throw seven innings," St. Laurent said. "My arm still feels great, so it's definitely a good feeling."
With the victory, St. Laurent and the Raiders will face Karns City at 4:30 p.m. today at Clarion-Limestone to decide who will become the D-IX Class AA champions.
St. Laurent needed just 86 pitches to earn the "W," and it wasn't until the sixth inning that he even let a batter on base. When Moniteau's Chester Gladd reached base with a single, St. Laurent's defense quickly stepped up to the occasion, and Brookville catcher Nate Bonfardine threw out Gladd as he led off first base.
Heading into the top of the seventh, the Raiders led 9-0, and St. Laurent said he kept his focus on earning the shutout.
"(I wanted it) pretty bad, but I wasn't going to get nervous over it," he said. "I would've blown it quick, so I just kept my head in the game."
After walking the leadoff batter, St. Laurent retired the next three and earned the triumphant victory.
"That was a huge outing; with a game (today) for the district title, it was great to come in and only have to use one pitcher," Brookville head coach Kenny Lindermuth said. "Nate's got that ability. ... He's had trouble throwing strikes early this year, and as the year has gone on, he's settled in and done a great job. (Wednesday) was just phenomenal."
Lindermuth said he was confident St. Laurent was going to have a strong game, despite his pattern of having one tough inning.
"He went out, and he just doesn't get intimated by anybody," Lindermuth said. "One nice thing about putting him on the mound is he thinks he's better than the other team every time he steps out there, and he was in a groove."
St. Laurent faced only one extra batter and was backed up by a strong defense. He struck out eight of the 22 batters he faced, and the men behind him stayed tough for the rest of the batters.
Offensively, the Raiders began well, scoring three runs in the first inning.
Senior Zane Hackett hit a two-RBI double with both Pat Brush and Bonfardine on base to get things started for the Raiders.
"I was definitely glad to get a hit the first time up, get some runs in, get the team motivated and get things going," Hackett said. "We were really focused on playing loose, and I was just trying to emphasize that with everybody. I tried to lead by example."
Hackett led the Raiders with two doubles and four RBIs, and he said with it being his first baseball play- off game, it was important to have a strong showing.
"It felt pretty awesome; I've never played in a baseball playoff game before, so it was definitely a different experience," he said. "It felt awesome getting those two hits, getting on base and scoring some runs."
After Hackett moved to third base on an error in the first inning, he scored on a double off the bat of Brock Beitz, and the Raiders finished the stanza up three runs.
The score remained the same until the fifth inning, but Lindermuth said he was happy with how the offense was playing despite not scoring any runs.
"We hit the ball hard; it was just right at them," Lindermuth said. "I told the kids there in the fourth inning, 'Don't change anything that you're doing.' We were just hitting at-them balls, and they did make a couple nice plays in the outfield there."
In the fourth inning, the Raiders looked strong with two batters on base after Tyler Dombrowski was walked, and AJ Skerkavich hit a single. But the Warriors' defense made an impressive play when St. Laurent hit a ball directly to center fielder Kyle Armagost, who caught the ball and immediately threw out Dombrowski, who was running to third.
"That center fielder with the catch and throw out at third was one of the best defensive plays I've seen all year," Lindermuth said. "They're a good team that we played (Wednesday), but I'm proud of our kids for the job they did."
After three scoreless innings for both teams, the Raiders got the bats going again in the fifth, scoring four runs. This time when Hackett stepped up to the plate, he scored Seth Connor with a double for his third RBI.
Dombrowski and Beitz followed with singles, scoring Bonfardine and Hackett, respectively, and Dombrowski scored the final run on an error by Armagost.
In the sixth inning, Brookville scored two insurance runs to set the final score at 9-0. Hackett earned his fourth RBI with a fielder's choice that allowed Ashtin Matthews to run home, and Brush used his intelligent base running to reach home plate after a wild pitch from reliever Joe Holfelder.
"It was a good game all around," Lindermuth said. "Nate set the tone with a 10-pitch first inning, (going) three up, three down, then we came in and got to their No. 1 right away. It was big getting those three runs in the first, and the kids did a fabulous job."
When the Raiders started the season, they were coming off a three-win season, and Lindermuth said his goal was to make it back to the playoffs. Even then, he knew it was a lofty goal, but after the season he's seen, he said he doesn't think anything is out of reach.
"We had a good season; this group of kids really works good together as a team," he said. "They've got each other's backs, and we kind of have that never too high, never too low (mentality). I think we've seen it all this year. The kids have faith in themselves, and it's a nice thing. We never feel like we're out of a game."
Hackett, who has served as captain for the Raiders this season, said he is excited that they have been able to accomplish their goals and more.
"It's an awesome feeling," Hackett said. "Coming in the last three years, I think we're over in wins for the last three years combined, so it's just great. Knowing we're going for the district title (today), we just have to come out and play our game. I'm very excited. I have a good feeling."
Hackett is going to need to keep his leadership mentality strong, as he will begin on the mound against Karns City today. Hackett has not pitched since May 9 against Bradford, but he earned a 5-2 victory while striking out five batters.
"I haven't thrown in like two weeks; this year, it's been taking longer to recover," Hackett said. "(Lindermuth) has rested me way up, so I'm so pumped to pitch (today). I'm definitely going to be ready to go and hopefully throwing good."
Hackett has pitched 20 innings this season with a 1.05 ERA. He's given up just 14 hits, all of which were singles, and has allowed only three earned runs.
Karns City heads into the championship game with a strong 13-4 record but ended the regular season on a two-game losing streak. The Gremlins gave up a 10-0 loss May 16 to Moniteau and fell 10-3 to Clarion in their final regular season game May 17.
Despite Karns City's strong record, Lindermuth is confident the Raiders will be tough competition.
"We're just going to come in and play our game like we did (Wednesday)," he said. "We're going to come back with Zane on the mound and be patient in the box. (We) won't help their pitcher. We'll still stay disciplined, get our pitches and hope we're better than them."View more articles in: