By Michael Rich
Tommy Fleser gave up three hits over six-plus innings for 15th-seeded Big Walnut on its way to a 7-2 upset of third-seeded Olentangy Liberty in a Division I baseball district semifinal Monday in Lewis Center.
“We thought coming in that we could compete with anybody,” Golden Eagles coach Chris Holly said. “Our season was up and down, but coming into the tournament, we started to get focused a little more.”
Fleser gave up hits in the first, fifth and seventh innings and walked three more, but struck out five.
“He was in control the whole game,” Holly said. “He didn’t throw very many curveballs … he controlled the game with his fastball — spotted it nicely. (BW catcher Nick) Green called a good game and (Fleser) got the job done for us.”
Third-seeded Liberty got to Fleser early with a Corey Mayer walk and a Spencer Yankle double with two outs in the first. Fleser ended the inning with a strikeout, though, and held Liberty to one hit the rest of the way.
“The coaches (told) me to focus in and just relax and take a deep breath here and there,” Fleser said. “It’s just about relaxation and (to be able to) calm yourself down in tough situations.”
He retired seven straight batters at one point and held Liberty to one hit after the first inning, an infield hit by Connor Stewart in the fifth.
“You gotta give Tom Fleser a lot of credit because he was down in the zone,” Patriots coach Ty Brenning said. “He changed planes a lot. He pitched on both sides of the plate and at the top of the zone and the bottom of the zone and I think he made it tough on guys today.”
The Golden Eagles (19-10) got big offensive performances by Jakob Evans and Austin Becker, who each had two hits and drove in a pair of runs.
“The team was up the whole game — it was just a great spirit the entire time and that’s what we gotta do from here on out,” Fleser said.
BW broke through with three runs in the third. Nick Moser walked and Noah Sprowls and Andrew Klamfoth each singled to left with one out.
Parker Imertreijs drove in Moser with a fielder’s choice groundout to short off reliever Hunter Voorhees and Evans and Green each had RBI singles to give the Eagles a 3-0 lead.
“(Imertreijs’ RBI groundout) kind of broke the seal and the two seniors, Evans and Green, stepped up and got big knocks for us,” Holly said.
Mitch Milheim took the loss for Liberty (24-4). He allowed three runs on three hits and two walks with one strikeout over 2.1 innings.
Liberty finally got to Fleser in the fifth. With one out, Ryan Hoffman walked and Stewart hit an infield single. Jordan Seich scored Hoffman from third on a sacrifice bunt.
Zach Arnold hit a sacrifice fly for Liberty in the seventh to round out the scoring.
“Give Big Walnut a lot of credit — they were really good (Monday),” Brenning said. “They’re a talented team that is playing well at the right time of the year.”
Big Walnut finds itself playing for a district title for the second straight year. Last year, the Eagles knocked off top-seeded Bloom-Carroll on its way to a district title and a final four appearance in Division II.
“It’s a good feeling to be back in the districts for the third time in Big Walnut history,” Fleser said.
The loss snapped a 17-game winning streak for the Patriots and denied them a third straight district title game appearance.
“The emotions for our guys is high because the investment is high,” Brenning said. “They went out and worked every day. These guys are not ready for it to end and neither am I because we like being around each other. That’s what makes it special — being part of something a little bit bigger than yourself.”
BW will meet ninth-seeded Pickerington Central in the district final Wednesday at 4 p.m. at Don Edwards Field in Newark.
Watterson 10, Buckeye Valley 0, 5 inn.
The 14th-seeded Barons saw their solid postseason run came to an end Monday as third-seeded Watterson parlayed an early lead into a lopsided win in a Division II district semifinal at Hilliard Darby.
The Eagles scored four runs in each of the first two innings to take control.
Ben Spaulding had Buckeye Valley’s (9-16) only hit, finishing 1-for-2 in the setback.
Hunter Mitchell was pegged with the loss on the mound, allowing eight runs in his 1.1 innings of action.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.