By John Lachmann
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Nick Woltermann could have been a hero or a goat in Newport Central Catholic’s state tournament opener.
Fortunately for the senior shortstop and the Thoroughbreds, Connor Bartels made it easier to focus on Woltermann’s positive impact by tossing a three-hitter in a 3-2 win over Pleasure Ridge Park at Whitaker Bank Ballpark on Monday.
Woltermann’s topsy-turvy game included a two-run triple, a leadoff single, a stolen base, a solid assist on an inning-ending ground out, a dropped pop up, and twice he was thrown out on the bases.
“He stepped up in the first inning, got that big hit to left center to drive in two and then he made a good play at shortstop, but then the major league pop-up, he doesn’t make the play on that,” NewCath coach Jeff Schulkens said. “Nick gets down on himself pretty quickly, but then he bounced back, got the hit later and he stole a base. He made a couple of baserunning blunders, but that’s Nick.”
PRP knocked the Thoroughbreds out of the state tournament last season, winning 10-4 in the quarterfinal round.
NewCath wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. Senior center fielder Brady Hightchew and junior right fielder Dominic Pangallo drew consecutive walks to start the game.
With the count in his favor, Woltermann unloaded on a fastball, driving it to the center field wall for a two-RBI triple.
But Woltermann was eventually picked off by junior catcher Joseph Hatcher and the Thoroughbreds could not tack on any additional runs in the frame.
Bartels, a junior right-hander, mowed through the first two innings, allowing just a two-out single in the bottom of the second.
Hightchew walked again to lead off the top of the third, and one out later Woltermann reached on catcher’s interference. The next batter, junior left fielder Josh Cain, belted a single that scored Hightchew, making it 3-0.
On the play, Woltermann took off for third but he had no chance after Hatcher fired to the bag, and Woltermann was tagged out in a rundown.
Bartels’ only hiccup came in the bottom of that frame. He surrendered a leadoff single and hit a batter with one out.
One out later, freshman shortstop Alex Miller singled to score the Panthers’ first run.
The next batter, junior right-hander Hunter Johnson, hit a stratosphere-bursting pop up on the infield. Woltermann came in a couple of steps to play it, but the ball popped out of his glove.
One run scored, but Miller stopped when he reached second. Had he continued running he would have at easily reached third and could have scored. Johnson only made it to first base.
“Right when I dropped that I was like, OK, never again,” Woltermann said. “Once I got in this dugout I had everyone pick me up. We’ve been doing it all year long, and I have confidence in every single one of these guys out in the field.”
Bartels fanned the next batter to end the inning with NewCath still leading, 3-2.
Both teams had just one batter reach base over the final four innings. Woltermann singled to lead off the sixth, but he was stranded after stealing second.
Following the run-scoring error, Bartels retired 13 of the final 14 hitters he faced. He walked senior left fielder Cody Strong with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, but Miller grounded out to second to end the inning.
Johnson lined a ball to center to start the bottom of the sixth, but Hightchew corralled it, and Bartels struck out the last two hitters in that frame.
Bartels went back out for the seventh, having thrown 100 pitches.
Junior first baseman Austin Beckman just missed an extra base hit when he lined a ball down the left field line to start the bottom of the seventh. But Cain made a highlight-reel diving catch while running toward the foul line for the first out.
“He made a great catch, and after that we were all like, it’s in the bag now,” Woltermann said. “Everybody’s ready, we’re not going to make a mistake for Connor.”
It was the first defensive chance of the game for Cain, and he did not play outfield in the regionals, as he pitched and was the DH in that tournament.
“I owe (Cain) breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Bartels said.
In addition to keeping the potential tying run off the bases, that out was important because with Beckman hitting in the seventh spot, Bartels could finish the game without facing the top of the order if he could retire the final two batters.
And he did just that. Bartels induced a pop up to first for the second out, and he struck out the final batter to end it.
“Great game, one of the best I’ve ever seen on the mound,” Woltermann said. “It was just fantastic. It was amazing – he was dealing tonight.”
Bartels allowed three hits, walked just one, hit a batter and fanned eight. Including the Woltermann error, PRP had just six baserunners.
“The last couple of innings he wanted the ball,” Schulkens said. “He had great control of his fastball, he struggled in the middle innings with his curve, and finally the last couple of his innings he threw