LANCASTER – Heath ran into a buzz saw in its quest for a Division II district title Wednesday.
Playing one day after taking a 3-1 win against DeSales in a semifinal game, Heath was locked up by Big Walnut and its freshman starting pitcher, Austin Becker.
Becker allowed two first-inning hits and little else as ninth-seeded Big Walnut (15-8) blanked No. 6 seed Heath (17-11) 6-0 in a district final at Beavers Field.
“Make no mistake about it, that is a real good team right there,” said Heath coach Dave Klontz, whose team lost in the district finals for the second time in three seasons but was making its first trip since moving to Division II. “They are almost a D-I school.
“The difference in the game was they did it when it counted. They got it done when they had to get it done. We didn’t have a hit after the first inning. You can’t win any games with no runs and two hits.”
Becker struck out five and walked five. He outdueled Heath senior ace Zak Witzberger, who entered the game with a stellar 0.95 ERA in 59 innings this season. Witzberger pitched three perfect innings to start the game before allowing a leadoff infield single in the fourth.
The game remained scoreless until the top of the sixth, when Big Walnut struck for six runs on seven consecutive hits off Witzberger. Breyden Shepherd drove in the first run with a solid hit to left. After the next hitter loaded the bases with an infield hit, cleanup hitter Nick Green hit a three-run double that rocketed over the head of center fielder Camron Romine.
“In that big inning, they just hit the ball well,” Klontz said.
Becker allowed a leadoff walk in the sixth before getting a fielder’s choice, and he retired the next five Heath hitters in order over the last two innings to end it.
“We scouted them,” Klontz said. “We saw them play three or four times, and we knew that (Becker) was a freshman. We just didn’t put any pressure on him.”
Heath mounted a two-out threat in the first inning as Witzberger had a double and moved to third on a single by Zac Morris. Romine flew out to right to end the threat.
The Bulldogs never mustered another hit and only had four walks the rest of the way against Becker. Witzberger allowed eight hits and six runs in six innings. Payton Booth struck out two in a scoreless seventh inning.
“(Witzberger) did all he could do,” Klontz said. “We put all of the pressure on the mound. We had chances to score, and we didn’t do it.”
Including the designated hitter, seven of Heath’s 10 players in the lineup were seniors.
“They have given me great effort over the last two or three years,” Klontz said. “I knew if we came down here we would play hard. Nobody feels worse about it than they do. I knew they would give me all they had. I don’t think anybody outside our dugout thought we would be here today.”