T.J. Nichting wanted the ball. He knew he would escape the jam and force extra innings. He was confident. He was ready.
And then his prep baseball career was over.
The Badin High School senior relieved Michael Davis with two outs in the bottom of the seventh Thursday in a Division III state semifinal against Bloom-Carroll at Huntington Park.
With runners on first and second, Nichting threw just two pitches, and Blake Smith’s RBI single gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 triumph.
“I had no doubt that I was going to get out of that inning because I had been in that situation many times earlier this year,” Nichting said. “Give that kid credit.”
Smith, a senior second baseman, said he couldn’t have asked for a better 0-1 pitch.
“Fastball,” he said. “Perfect. Right where it was supposed to be.”
Davis, the Rams’ senior ace, allowed four hits in 6.2 innings on the hill. He struck out six and walked four.
Badin coach Brion Treadway said it wasn’t a difficult decision to bring Nichting in.
“We just wanted to get T.J. in with a little more velocity. We just wanted to change the pace,” Treadway said. “We were in the 2-hole. We knew the 3-spot was coming up, and we felt like that was their best hitter. So we didn’t want to face him with a runner on third.
“Michael does not walk guys, and he walked two in that inning, so I knew he was probably running out of gas. T.J.’s gotten it done all year. We felt it was the right call.”
Davis wasn’t in surrender mode, but admitted he was OK with handing the ball to Nichting.
“I was tired and down, definitely. I threw 90-some pitches,” Davis said. “They wanted to give a new look with a fresh arm and see if T.J. could shut it down like he usually does.”
Treadway praised both of his pitchers.
“Michael goes out there and keeps us in ballgames,” the Badin coach said. “I trust him 100 percent. I love the kid. I think no matter what he does in life, he’s going to be successful because he doesn’t back down from anything.
”(T.J.’s) one of the smartest baseball players we’ve ever had in the program. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to play in the big leagues one day. He just gets it. He’s always one step ahead. He’s like a coach on the field.”
Nichting has a lot of baseball ahead of him — he’ll play for UNC Charlotte next season. But he choked up as he talked about the end of his time at Badin.
“You can’t worry about the future, you can’t worry about the past,” Nichting said. “Right now is right now, and it’s no fun losing. Hopefully these juniors and sophomores and freshmen can use this moment to motivate themselves to get back here and win one.”
No-title Columbus: Badin continues to seek its first state championship in the city of Columbus. The Rams won two titles in two trips to Canton, but they’re 0 for 9 in the state capital.
“Columbus is a great place to be this time of year,” Treadway said. “One of these days, we’ll get it done.”
Fundamental breakdown: Bloom-Carroll failed on three attempts to put down sacrifice bunts. The Bulldogs had their first two batters reach base in the third and fourth innings, then popped up bunts and hit into 4-6-3 double plays.
“We did a lot of things early that were maybe out of character for our team, and I’m sure the moment and the stage and the excitement were part of it,” Bloom-Carroll coach Brian Thacker said. “But they battled. We just kept saying, ‘Hang in there, hang in there, hang in there,’ and we were able to do that.”
Coming back: The Rams rallied to knot the contest at 2-2 in the top of the seventh when a Nichting grounder allowed Nick Browning to score from third base.
Treadway wasn’t surprised that his troops found a way to rebound after Bloom-Carroll went ahead 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth.
“That’s been these guys all year,” Treadway said. “It was just funny. They come in here and they’re down one going into the last inning, and they’re just joking around … hey, this is more interesting, this is fun, we like it this way … and sure enough they tie it up. These guys never press. They always trust their abilities.”
Notebook: Badin left 10 runners on base, and the Bulldogs stranded six. … Bloom-Carroll’s Smith was the only player in the game to collect two hits. … The Rams struck out just once. … Caleb Wuest and Dustin Valentino delivered pinch-hit singles in the sixth, but Badin was unable to score. … Wheelersburg defeated Youngstown Ursuline 2-0 in eight innings in Thursday’s first semifinal. The D-III title game has been moved from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. … Thursday’s second semifinal was scheduled to start at 1 p.m. The first pitch was thrown at 5:39 p.m.