A decade after its 2005 run to the state tournament, the Nashville High School baseball team took a step closer to returning, defeating Chester H 4-2 on Saturday in the Class 2A Red Bud Regional championship.
The top-seeded Hornets were heavily favored in the matchup, but Chester did not let Nashville off easy. With the Chester offense challenging them in every inning, the Hornets relied on sophomore pitcher Ryan Brink to keep the game close, but he did more than that.
The young pitcher got into trouble in all of his six-plus innings, but when runners got into scoring position, Brink closed the door on the Yellow Jackets’ threat. Stranding 10 opposing runners, Brink gave up two earned runs on eight hits, while striking out six.
Brink said when the Yellow Jackets got runners in scoring position, he knew he had to throw better.
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“Especially when I get runners on base, I like to get ahead in the count. Sometimes, when I don’t do it too well, that’s when hit better. I was just really trying to get that first pitch strike to get ahead,” Brink said.
Nashville coach Chad Malawy said he was fully aware of the threat Chester posed each inning.
“We dodged some bullets. Chester was getting runners in scoring position with less than two outs, and they didn’t get the big hit. That’s baseball sometimes,” Malawy said. “Part of that is your pitcher executing in those spots.”
While Chester struggled to hit with runners in scoring position, Nashville had success scoring with two outs. The biggest contributions of the day came off the bat of sophomore catcher and designated hitter Cody Bauza. In the fourth inning, Bauza gave the Hornets the lead with an RBI double and in the seventh inning had another RBI double to give Nashville its fourth run.
Bauza said he was not fazed by the atmosphere of a regional championship.
“I was just going up there and trying to put in the best swing I could,” Bauza said. “Me being a sophomore, I didn’t think I’d get this chance at the start of the year, but good things happen, especially when you put a good swing on the ball.”
Malawy praised his young designated hitter and said he knew Bauza would come through for the team.
“[Bauza] doesn’t feel pressure. He got up there and got a pitch to hit. He’s been one of our best hitters all year,” Malavy said.
The regional championship is Nashville’s second in three years. Malawy said despite this team’s youth, he knew it was capable of winning.
“Last year we were 32-4 and got beat in the regional. I graduated 12 seniors; we were a good club,” Malawy said. “When they graduated there was just a lot of chatter of, ‘Oh, they’re going to be young. It’s going to be a rebuilding year. That team probably won’t 20. They won’t win conference. They won’t win a regional with all the sophomores they’re playing.’ We started 0-2 and just told our guys, ‘Don’t believe that because we’re a good program, and we can get it right.’’’
On the Chester side, the No. 3 seeded team’s playoff run came to an end. After a surprising victory against second-seeded Gibault, the Yellow Jackets struggled to get runs across the plate and went scoreless from the second inning through the sixth inning.
Chester attempted a comeback in the seventh inning, but could only muster up one run against Nashville’s senior pitcher Dylan Mueller.
Chester’s top hitter was junior Jason Schwartz who got on base four times, and got both of the Yellow Jacket’s RBI.
With a win in the Red Bud regional, Nashville now heads home, where they host a sectional.
The Hornets play at 4:30 p.m. Thursday against Carmi-White County.
With the regional game won, Malawy did not seem to care who Nashville plays and said, “(We are) taking it one game at a time.”