June 15th, 2018

Nicholson, Littlefield propel St. X to title game

Block_eric thorne

Eric Thorne

Staff Writer


Nicholson, Littlefield propel St. X to title game
St. X pitcher Ryan Nicholson hurled a 2 hit shutout against Hazard (photo by Eric Thorne)

 LEXINGTON. Ky - Locked in a pitcher’s duel Ryan Nicholson knew he had to stay poised and wait for the St. Xavier offense to get going behind him.

It was worth the wait as the Tigers advanced to the championship game of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament with a 3-0 win over Hazard.

St. X (36-2) squandered two early scoring chances, but erupted for a pair of runs in the sixth inning and tacked on an insurance home run from Alex Adams in the seventh.

Nicholson threw a complete game two-hitter and remained perfect on the mound this season with a 7-0 record. The junior struck out five and issued one walk.

“That may have been fun to watch from the stands, but from my perspective I’d like to see us put up a few more runs and give me some relief,” Nicholson said. “It was frustrating because we pride ourselves on putting the ball in play, and you can’t just fold. You have to keep fighting and we did.”

St. X had an early opportunity in the second inning when Andrew Littlefield reached on an chopping infield hit. He stole second and third before Nicholson walked and stole second as well with just one out. However, Chase Patton and Bryce Elmore could not bring them in.

The Tigers missed again in the fourth when Trey Sweeney singled and Andrew Littlefield ripped a triple off the rightfield wall.

“I choked up a little bit and got some more bat control after seeing him the first time, and got a good bat on the ball,” Littlefield said. “He had great velocity up high, and that made it tough for us.”

St. Coach Andy Porta waved Sweeney home, but he was thrown out trying to slide under the tag of catcher Dalton Baker on a relay from Andy Baker. Cam Scheler then struck out to strand Littlefield.

“I honest didn’t think anything about him scoring because I was ticked we were going to get Andrew to third, until I saw Trey didn’t get a very good turn coming around third,” Porta said. “However, give credit to Hazard it was a heck of a throw to get him.”

The turning point came in the bottom of the fifth with two out when Baker laced a line drive to left field wall that Aric Lyons leapt to snag off the wall.

That defensive play helped jumpstart the Tiger offense.

“I knew it was going to be up there and I was close to the wall so I just went up there and got it and glad I came down with it,” Lyons said. “I think it helped get us going.”

With two out Cam Scheler lofted a ball to shallow center that the Bulldog outfielders seemed to lose in the sun.  Scheler never stopped running and ended up on second base.

Littlefield drove Scheler home on a single to right, and Nicholson followed with a nearly identical hit that plated Littlefield.  

Lyons added that the Tigers feed off momentum.

“I definitely think things like that snowball, and after my catch we came to bat and we got the two-out hit. We then got him around and scored another run, and got the win from there,” Lyons said.

Littlefield went 3 for 3 in the game with a pair of singles and a triple.

“Ryan Nicholson did a great job competing both on the mound and at the plate today for us getting an RBI,” Littlefield said. “When you can’t score runs early you just have to keep battling, and we got the pitch count up on their pitcher allowing us to score runs.”

Hazard (26-10) got its first hit of the game in the bottom of the sixth on a two-out single from Garrett Miller, but that was erased with a inning ending double play.

The Tigers added the Adams homer in the seventh to give Nicholson some added breathing room.

“I don’t get a lot of the home runs because like St. X this is a huge park, but I knew he was going to throw me a curve ball and I managed to get it over the fence,” Adams said. “It really helped as a cushion run, and sometimes you need those.”

Devin Morris (7-5) went the distance for Hazard allowing seven hits and striking out seven.

“The Morris kid threw great out there for them just like Ryan did and I don’t care if it’s a  big school or small school it just comes down the one guy on the mound no matter how big or small because he can shut any team down no matter the school size,” Porta said.

The Tiger coach was most impressed his pitcher held his composure.

“Ryan tonight reminded me of Brother Rice early in the year with something to prove and he did it again tonight,” Porta said. “He was frustrated early with us not scoring and he also struck out. Still he kept throwing up zeros, but he also had a good AB with an RBI. Anything offensively is icing on the cake.”

Nicholson allowed a two-out single in the seventh, but Sweeney fielded a very deep hopper to short from Andy Baker and threw him out to end the game.

“We flipped the switch with the catch from Aric, and then get those runs on the board,” Nicholson said. “I think me going the distance saved all our arms for tomorrow night’s game, and on a stage like this you have to feel good about your performance if you can do that.”

St. X will face either McCracken County or Highlands at 7 p.m. Saturday, and will be seeking its eighth state title and third in five years.

“Our motto all year has been hungry but humble,” Porta said. “Winning streaks are great and you are hungry and want to keep winning, but you have to be humble and respect the game and teams you play.”

 

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