Gavan Wernsing twirled his magic wand Wednesday against St. Anthony.
The senior led the Hatchets to the National Trail Conference Tournament championship game after allowing four hits and no earned runs over 6 2/3 innings. He also fanned 10 batters and walked three in their 7-0 win.
“I just had to locate,” Wernsing said. “They’re a very good hitting team, and coming in, I knew they were preparing for me, so I had to mix it up a little bit, and it paid off.”
Pitching wasn’t going to be the problem Wednesday, regardless, though. WSS (12-4) was going to have to bring the bats, which they didn’t do in the two teams’ previous meeting on Sept. 7, where the Hatchets lost 2-0 and only mustered three hits.
The second time around, though, head coach Brett Harmeier’s team hit, and it paid off in the long run. However, it took three innings for the hits to come.
In the top of the third, Carter Chaney started the WSS rally with a one-out single, while Austin Wittenberg collected the second hit after Rhett Rincker struck out.
Known to his coach as one of his better baserunners, Chaney showed that trait off with Tyler Wetherell at the plate. Chaney slid head-first into third after an error on the St. Anthony first baseman and then promptly scored after the first baseman’s throw evaded the third baseman’s glove.
“I wasn’t even expecting him to come to third on that throw to first,” Harmeier said. “But, he was trucking over there, and he made that play happen. By his wheels and his speed, he made that play happen. I told him to get up, and he trotted all the way home. We got lucky on that one.”
That same error allowed Wittenburg to advance to second before he eventually scored after Wernsing doubled on a line drive to right field that made it 2-0.
In addition to his dazzling performance on the mound, Wernsing also went 2-for-4 at the plate.
“He’s in the middle of our order for a reason,” Harmeier said. “It’s always helpful when a pitcher can help himself. He shortened up with two strikes right there and put it in the gap. He didn’t try to do too much, and fortunately, it worked out for us.”
The Hatchets then tacked on one more run in the frame after Wetherell, who drew a walk and reached third on the Wernsing double, scored on a wild pitch to make it 3-0.
Then, following a scoreless fourth, WSS added four more runs to equal the 7-0 final in the top of the fifth.
Wittenberg started the frame by drawing a walk. Wernsing and Samuel Vonderheide then hit back-to-back singles to load the bases with one out.
Jordan Wittenberg, however, struck out before two runs scored after an error on the St. Anthony second baseman, and Kendall Morris drove in a pair on a two-out, two-run RBI double that gave the Hatchets a comfortable cushion.
“Getting guys on again,” said Harmeier of the fifth inning. “Moving them over, keeping the line moving. We’re not a team that hits a ton of home runs or anything like that. We get singles and doubles and use our speed to our advantage.”
This game, though, circled back around to the pitcher’s mound and what Wernsing did to neutralize a batting order that was doing nothing but scoring heading into the tournament.
Before the tournament began, St. Anthony scored 11 runs per game in their last six contests.
“I know our swings are there; it’s just we’re not connecting,” Bulldogs head coach Tony Kreke said. “Different pitching. Wernsing is a heck of a pitcher, so scoring runs off of him, you got to make sure that you’re on the pitch and barrelling things up. Tonight, we only barrelled a few up, but they weren’t at the right time.”
WSS moves to the championship game Friday night against North Clay, while St. Anthony plays in the third-place game against Altamont. Both contests are at South Central.