By Michael Rich
The battery of pitcher Collin Hoffmann and Nate Monastra led Olentangy past district-rival Olentangy Orange 4-2 in eight innings in a Division I district semifinal Tuesday in New Albany.
“Our kids are really tough-minded,” Olentangy coach Ryan Lucas said. “That’s evident when (Orange) came back and tied it, and we didn’t fold.”
Hoffmann struck out 13 batters on the mound and came through with the go-ahead RBI single to break a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning for Olentangy (21-8).
“We came out and played hard,” Hoffmann said. “My teammates stuck behind me … I played for them, they played for me and it just came out the way we wanted it.”
As for Hoffmann’s batterymate Monastra, he had two hits and drove in each of Olentangy’s first two runs.
Caden Kaiser opened the game with an infield hit and moved to second on Christian McFarland’s sac bunt. Monastra drove him home with a groundball double down the left field line to give Olentangy a 1-0 lead in the first.
“First, Caden was getting on (base) and Christian was moving him over — everybody was doing their job,” Monastra said.
Caden Kaiser and McFarland opened the third inning with a pair of singles, with Kaiser moving to third on McFarland’s hit to left. Monastra lifted a fly ball to right deep enough to bring Kaiser home to give Olentangy a 2-0 lead.
“I was just seeing the ball well — I was really locked in this game,” Monastra said. “I wanted to win this game so bad.”
Monastra also jump-started the offense in the eighth. He and Cameron Kaiser each singled with one out to set up Hoffmann’s go-ahead hit to right. Berto Carselle capped the scoring with a well-executed squeeze bunt to drive in the final run.
“I was trying to hit something back-side and ended up getting the pitch I needed and took it right over the first baseman,” Hoffmann said.
Meanwhile, Hoffmann came back from a rocky first inning in which Orange had three batters reach on a hit, a walk and an error. Hoffmann picked off a runner and got a pair of groundouts in the inning to avoid damage.
Afterward, he was brilliant. He retired the next 12 batters he faced, which included a string of six consecutive strikeouts.
“He had great command of his pitches,” Lucas said. “There was a couple of times where it’s a 3-2 count and Nate’s calling a curveball and he’s striking them out with curveball’s on 3-2 counts when we don’t need them to walk. He just has a tremendous amount of confidence.”
Hoffmann allowed two runs on five hits and two walks in a complete eight innings of work to get the win for Olentangy.
“That was the best game he’s ever thrown,” Monastra said. “He didn’t miss any spots — maybe one or two the whole game. I didn’t even move my glove very much, honestly.”
Orange’s Matthew Poole worked a walk to open the sixth and Nik Strine followed with his second hit of the game — a single to center that moved Poole to third. Two outs later, Jason Schutte blooped a single into center field that scored both runs to tie the game.
Schutte settled in after the fourth inning on the mound for Orange (24-4). He retired nine batters in a row at one point.
“Schutte was fabulous — he (got) the big hit,” Pioneers coach Phil Callaghan said. “He’s just a scrapper — that’s the way he plays. That’s the reason he’s going to be a four-year starter. He plays the game right.”
He allowed four runs on 11 hits and no walks and struck out two over eight innings and took the loss for the Pioneers. Strine finished with a game-high three hits and scored a run.
Olentangy swept the regular season series with close 2-0 and 5-4 wins and snapped Orange’s 17-game winning streak.
“All three of the games we’ve had have been great games like (Tuesday’s game),” Callaghan said. “What it came down to is they played better baseball (Tuesday) and that was true in the first two games. So, kudos to them — that’s why they won the league and we didn’t.”
Olentangy advances to the district final to play top-seeded Hilliard Darby Thursday night at 7 p.m.
Olentangy def. Westerville North 26-24, 25-22, 25-17 (Division I tournament)
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.