SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Brilliant starting pitching brought the Valle Catholic baseball program to the threshold of its first-ever state championship with an impressive string of five consecutive post-season shutouts.
But timely two-out hitting and reliable defense provided the necessary push across the finish line Thursday afternoon, as the Warriors defeated resilient Strafford 6-2 in the MSHSAA Class 2 title game at Meador Park.
Nathan Geile (8-1) navigated six quality innings with seven strikeouts, and sparked the offense by going 2-for-4 with two stolen bases. Valle (26-5) completed its historic season on a 10-game winning streak.
“The kids came down here with a goal in mind,” said eighth-year Valle coach Judd Naeger. “They had fun but also knew that there was work to be done. Once again, we were able to get some big two-out hits.”
Shortstop Jason Blum delivered perhaps the most prominent swing when his two-run double in the fifth gave the Warriors a 4-1 lead. Strafford conceded an intentional walk to previous batter Aaron Basler with first base open.
“They put Aaron on and I felt that they didn’t quite respect me,“ said Blum. “(Parton) struck me out and walked me the time before, but he threw me a curve ball inside, and I just took it to left field.”
Strafford (23-6) made an unlikely run to the state finals after posting a losing record last year, and challenged the Warriors with numerous scoring threats while compiling a 7-5 margin in total hits.
Back-to-back singles in the sixth from Tanner Davis and Zach Yarberry brought the Indians closer, but the tying runs were stranded when Christian Moulton stabbed a hard smash near the first-base line for the third out.
Geile extended the margin with a two-run single off reliever Caleb Barnum in the Valle sixth, and Mike Greminger sealed the title with a perfect seventh after tossing a one-hitter against Plattsburg in Wednesday’s semifinal win.
“We came back here with something to prove after not winning two years ago,” said Greminger. “We knew we could win if we just played our game. Nathan (Geile) and I threw some good pitches, and our defense played great.”
The Indians suffered a shaky opening frame on defense with three costly errors, and starter Rhett Parton yielded an unearned run after plunking lead-off man Cole Bieser and Luke Uding.
A fielder’s choice from Bieser made it 2-0 after Christian Moulton raced from first to third on Nolan Carrow’s single to right. Parton quickly settled down to retire 10 of his next 11 batters.
Basler caught two Indians stealing in the top of the second, and Geile escaped a bases-loaded situation in the third. Strafford finally broke through in the fifth on a RBI double from Austin King, but Geile fanned the next two batters to preserve the lead.
“You have to take your hat off to Nathan (Geile) as a competitor,” added Naeger. “He dug down and made big pitches when he had to, and was his best when it mattered most.”
Valle had been focused on a return to Springfield since settling for a bittersweet third-place finish in 2007, loading its schedule with plenty of top competition. Several players also gained confidence while winning the Junior American Legion national tournament last summer in Nebraska.
“During my freshman year when we came here, it was so hard to relax because we were just excited to be playing,” said Basler. “This year we were more experienced and on a mission, and we came out on top.”
Valle could be the early favorite to repeat as 2010 champions with Bieser representing the lone graduating senior.
Yarbarry finished 2-for-3 and Justin Cordova added a double for Strafford, which traveled only 13 miles to reach downtown Springfield.
Strafford 000 011 0 – 2 7 4
Valle Catholic 110 022 x – 6 5 2
WP – Geile 6ip 2r 7h 7k 3bb.
LP – Parton 5 1/3ip 5r 3h 2k 5bb 2hp.
Strafford – Yarberry 2-3, Cordova 1-2, Davis 1-3, Parton 1-3, Wilson 1-3, King 1-4. 2b – Cordova, King.
Valle – Geile 2-4, Blum 1-2, Carrow 1-2, Bieser 1-3. 2b – Blum.