GROTON, Mass. -- It was the baseball equivalent of two heavyweight boxers squaring off, with the winner being decided after the bout was over.
Lawrence Academy’s Max Tishman and St. Sebastian’s John Nicklas each took the hill for their teams Wednesday, with Nicklas and the Arrows coming away with the 3-0 victory.
Each pitcher made quick work of his opponent’s lineup through the first three innings. It was not until the fourth until St. Sebastian’s manufactured it’s first run of the game.
After Tishman struck out Andrew Vandini to begin the inning, he walked Peter Cimini after an seven-pitch at-bat. The next batter up, Justin Bellinger, hit a rocket to left that was hit so hard it rolled underneath the wall for a ground rule double, which put runners on second and third with one out.
Tishman kept battling however, and got Alex Venditti to ground out to him for the second out of the inning and keep the runners from scoring.
Ryan Wolfsberg singled home Cimini on the first pitch of his at-bat, which proved to be all his team needed.
Nicklas was dominant on the other side for St. Sebastian’s. He went seven innings, threw 121 pitches, had 13 strikeouts, while allowing only three hits and five walks.
“There were two great pitchers and competitive hitters on both sides,” said St. Sebastian’s coach Mike Schell. “I knew it was going to be a situation where we’d just need to win every pitch and make the pitchers work. John’s stuff is great, but his competitiveness is even better. We were expecting this kind of a game to come down to the last swing.”
Nicklas’ biggest scare came in the fifth inning. After walking Sean Mullaney with one out in the inning, Brady Burns came up and hit a rocket that barely stayed inside the left field foul line. The ball rolled past the foul pole and was initially called a triple on the field. However, the ground rules called for any ball that rolls past the wall to be considered a ground rule double.
Therefore, instead of the tying run crossing the plate for Lawrence Academy, Mullaney had to return to third. This put runners on second and third with one out.
The next batter up, Nick Day, struck out swinging. Marcus Backlin grounded out to third, ending any hope Lawrence Academy had of scoring that inning.
Nicklas came back out for the last two innings and appeared to only get stronger. He struck out four of the last six batters he faced, giving him and his team the complete game shutout.
Tishman was replaced on the mound by Kevin Wnukowski for the final inning. St. Sebastian’s tacked on two more runs in the final frame, and came away with the 3-0 victory.
Friendly Foes: This game carried a friendly rivalry, beyond any animosity the teams had for each other. Away from the field, Nicklas and Tishman have known each other and played against each other for years.
The scouts came out to watch Tishman, even going so far as to gather on the small hill overlooking the throwing area where Tishman threw his pregame bullpen session.
When Tishman was done throwing, the scouts left to take their place behind the backstop, leaving Nicklas to throw his bullpen in peace.
Did Nicklas feel any extra emotion leading up to this game, or feel the need to match Tishman in any way because of the attention his starts bring?
“Honestly, no, because I’ve always been better than Tish,” he began. “I’ve played four or five years with him now, we’ve played summer ball. We’re literally brothers. It’s just recently that he’s got to be a little better than me, as a lefty.”
“No, we’ve always considered ourselves equal, in my opinion. I kind of figured it was just another day. It was a little nerve-wracking going against one of my best friends, but it was definitely fun.”
Did he feel slighted at all by the scouts, seeing as they payed much less attention to his work on the bullpen than his friend’s?
“Absolutely. I did notice that, actually made a mental note of that,” he said. “I just kind of shook it off and knew I was going to try my best to go out and be the competitive guy that I am and just go for the win.”
Battling a Complete Game: Nicklas went into the final inning having thrown 109 pitches, and ended the game having thrown a total of 121, an almost unheard of amount of pitches this early in the spring season. He didn’t want to come out of the game however, and even assured his coach keeping him in was a good idea.
“I just told him, I said, ‘This is my game, I really want to finish this,” he said. “He said, ‘Alright, but I’m giving you a maximum of 15-20 pitches. I got right about there.”