Nease Beats Dwyer To Reach State Championship
The Nease baseball team entered the 2017 state tournament flying under the radar, although the reality is that the club is as battle-tested and dangerous as any in its 7A Final Four bracket. The team played many of the top teams in Jacksonville and the surrounding areas, and the challenges endured throughout the course of the season developed the group into seasoned veterans.
Those trials helped lead to the present, where Nease now finds itself playing in Thursday’s 7A state championship following a tough, 2-1 victory over Dwyer in Wednesday afternoon’s state semifinal at Hammond Stadium. Nease (20-11) will take on King for the 7A state crown.
After battling through Dwyer scoring threats in the fourth and fifth inning, Nease went ahead with the deciding run in the top of the sixth. Kyle Huber laced a triple deep to left field to start the frame, and then scored thanks to a sac-fly RBI from Collin Garner.
“We knew coming into it that this was going to be a tough one,” Nease manager Jeremiah Klosterman said. “We were really trying to press our guys to attack early in the count and early in the game, and I really believe that we did that a few times. The big thing was that we got two opportunities, and when we got the opportunities we took advantage of it. The other club had an opportunity and we got out of it, and that was the difference in the game.”
Nease grabbed the lead with its first swings in the top of the first inning. Jason Sowden worked a lead-off walk, stole second and scored thanks to an RBI double down the third base line off the bat of Huber.
Dwyer then had its first swings interrupted by a 50-minute delay due to lightning strikes in the area. After play resumed, it answered back in the bottom of the third to tie things back up. Max Howard singled on a bouncer up the middle, stole second and scored when Dylan Arcadipane lined an RBI single into shallow left field. A passed ball allowed Arcadipane to advance to second, but he was stranded when Nease starter Eric Linder recorded a swinging strikeout to end the threat.
“That was big; a lot of momentum shifted our way right there,” Linder said. “Bases loaded with one out is very hard to get out of, but just pounding the zone is the key. I was just focused on throwing strikes and getting ahead in the count, and winning.”
Linder and Dwyer starter Justin Allintoff locked into a pitcher’s duel. Allintoff went the distance for Dwyer, finishing with nine strikeouts while allowing just three hits and two walks. Meanwhile, Linder picked up the victory with six strong innings in which he allowed an unearned run on four hits, striking out six without issuing any walks.
All season long Nease has learned how to overcome adversity. The club suffered numerous injuries and illnesses throughout the season, while playing their unforgiving schedule. Klosterman admitted that when he took over as the new manager this year was improving the level of competition they could face to best prepare themselves.
“I think all the trials the team went through really built a lot of character,” Klosterman said. “It pushed them and their preparation has been a lot better ever since the end of the regular season. I think that it’s been the building of character and putting them in situations like we were today that helped them prepare and be ready for this.”
Like most ball players, Nease embraced the challenges it faced this year. The players welcomed the tough competition and used those experiences to raise the bar within themselves in learning how to overcome anything necessary to reach the mountaintop the team only needs to push one more opponent off of in order to now conquer.
“We are all competitors, so when we saw a loaded schedule it was awesome and we were ready for it,” senior Leighton Alley said. “We did have our ups-and-downs, but that is what that schedule was for was to get us to the state final. So it has definitely paid off and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”