Notre Dame High School baseball coach Chris Chiprez knew his Nikes were in for a battle with New London for the Class 1A District 8 championship Saturday night, and a battle he got.
The Nikes squandered a five-run lead, but held on for a 6-4 victory at Winegard Field. Notre Dame (13-2) advances to Tuesday’s substate game at Solon, facing North Cedar (7-7). That winner advances to the state tournament.
North Cedar reached the substate game by defeating Easton Valley, 3-1, at Miles Saturday night.
Notre Dame held a 6-1 lead entering the seventh inning, then New London came alive. Holvin Catala led off the inning with a home run over the left field wall, then the Tigers loaded the bases on a walk, a hit batsman and a Nike error.
Ryan Richey singled to left, scoring Carter Allen, and Seth Bailey coaxed a two-out, bases-loaded walk to score Shae Summerfield.
Coach Chiprez sent Josh Smith to the mound to relieve Jackson Brent, facing New London’s leadoff hitter. Joshua Catala hit the ball back to Smith, who made the play at first to end the game.
"I give credit to New London," coach Chiprez said. "They’re a good team. We knew we were in for a battle tonight. We knew that last inning they were going to try to make a run for it and they did. Fortunately enough we got (Joshua) Catala to ground out to the pitcher. He was killing us all night. He’s a good little player. That was a big out for Josh (Smith) under that kind of pressure."
"It came down to earlier in the game, the third inning, we made a couple mistakes and chased that for five innings," New London coach Brad Helmerson said. "It is what it is. They played a better game tonight and executed a little bit better than we did. It came down to two-out hits and we just didn’t get them."
New London scored first on Shae Summerfield’s leadoff homer in the second inning. Notre Dame matched the run in the bottom of the inning. The Nikes took advantage of New London errors to score three runs in the third for a 4-1 lead. They added two in the fifth on an RBI-double by Jeron Conner and an RBI-single by Trenton Blythe.
The game snapped New London’s winning streak at eight games. The Tigers started three seniors and six sophomores.
"New London is a good team," coach Chiprez said. "They’re well-coached. They compete at the highest level. I give credit to those guys. They are going to be good for awhile. They’re going to be the team to beat in the upcoming future. I can’t say enough good things about them."
"It’ll all depend on what they do in the next eight months, how they prepare for next May," Helmerson said of his young team. "We just talked about that. It really comes down to baseball is not a three-month sport. It’s a 12-month sport. I know they have their other sports, but if they want to take a step further or two steps further it’s going to come down to how they prepare in the next eight or nine months."
Conner led Notre Dame with two hits in three trips. Holvin Catala was 2-for-3 for New London.
Conner was the winning pitcher, surrendering one earned run — Summerfield’s homer — on three hits and three walks in three innings. He struck out five Tigers. Mitchell Brent, Jackson Brent and Smith relieved.
Holvin Catala took the loss and gave up six runs, just two earned, on six hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings. He fanned five. Kooper Schulte pitched the last two outs and struck out two batters.
New London ended its season at 14-4.
Although coach Chiprez doesn’t know anything about the Nikes’ substate opponent, he knows what it will take to win the game.
"No. 1, I think we need to stress pitching," he said. "We need to make sure we’re starting on top of the batters. The problem we’re having lately is we’re getting behind on batters and then we’ve got to throw one right down the middle. And they can tee off on it. We need to get ahead of batters so they’re not in hitter’s count.
"I think No. 2 we need to shore up our defense," Chiprez said. "We didn’t do too bad tonight. We tell our guys you’ve got to get the outs.
"But then offensively, we told our guys tonight that Holvin (Catala) likes to change speeds. You may only get one fast ball and you better make sure you’re ready to hit right off the bat and jump on that fast ball."