NASHVILLE — For a guy that wasn't even in Nashville's starting rotation to start the season, senior Christian Spenner looked right at home on the mound Thursday in a high-pressure situation.
Spenner shut down the Gibault Hawks on four hits as the Hornets advanced to the Class 2A Nashville Regional championship with a 3-1 semifinal victory.
Spenner held the top seven hitters in Gibault's typically potent lineup to a 2-for-19 day.
"Spenner was awfully good today and I've seen Spenner better," Nashville coach Chad Malawy said of his senior right-hander, now 9-1 with an ERA approaching 1.50. "Gibault has one of the best offenses in our area and for Spenner to handle them is a definite feather in his cap.
"Spenner wasn't even in our rotation at the start of the season and every time I gave him the ball ... he just keeps doing it. What a great effort by a senior."
Nashville (31-3) will face Freeburg (26-8) in the regional final at 11 a.m. Saturday. Defending Class 1A state champion Gibault finished the season with a 21-12 mark.
Nashville has incredible pitching depth with Keegan Anderson (8-1, 2.01 ERA) and Kyle Jasper (9-0, 1.32 ERA) available on Saturday. The Hornets' team ERA before Thursday was a minuscule 1.71, the second-lowest in school history below the 1.38 ERA posted by the 2013 club.
"Spenner did a great job for them," Gibault coach Andy Skaer said. "He was able to locate all day, I thought at some point we'd get to him and we never really got to him."
This game was nothing like the previous meeting between the teams that saw Nashville pound out an 11-8 victory as the teams combined for six home runs.
During the portion of the first inning that began Wednesday before being wiped out by a thunderstorm, Nashville grabbed a 1-0 lead on singles by Keegan Anderson and Hunter Beetley and an error by Gibault shortstop Wes Degener.
Nashville got another run in the third when Anderson led off with a double and scored on an RBI single by Beetley.
Gibault cut the Hornets' lead in half in the fourth as Degener reached on a leadoff walk and scored on an RBI single to left by Auggie Ward.
Nashville pushed the lead to 3-1 in the fourth against Gibault starter Zach Neff on a single by Trace Musielak and sacrifice fly by Dylan Mueller.
The Hawks had runners in scoring position in the fifth and sixth, but Spenner was able to escape each time. In the fifth, Gibault courtesy runner Alec Skaer was thrown out at the plate on a strong throw by Nashville center fielder Kyle Jasper.
Nashville senior catcher Jordan Harre said there's a good reason Spenner has won nine of his 10 decisions.
"Everything was moving," Harre said. "He's known for his ball moving all the time. He was hitting both corners ... his fastball is never straight, that's one thing that's good about him. It's always moving."
Spenner said being forced to warm up as the starter two days in a row didn't hurt his focus at all.
"I think the rest actually helped out," he said. "I felt better going out today than I did yesterday."
Malawy was worried that his team might see a sharper Neff on Thursday and that proved to be the case. Neff struck out seven and scattered seven hits, but the Hornets bunched enough together to move into the championship game.
"Any advantage to the whole (two day) situation went to Gibault," Malawy said. "I didn't feel like he was sharp yesterday and we had a better opportunity of stringing some hits together. Now today, he was a new pitcher. He had his stuff together and he was really sharp."
Gibault was unable to repeat its magical postseason run of a year ago, when the Hawks brought home a Class 1A state baseball title.
Many of the same players returned, making Thursday's loss even tougher for Skaer and the squad."
"It's tough any time you lose," Skaer said. "Doesn't matter who you are or when you lose."