The nervous sophomore warmed up near the left-field line as Montgomery's Alex Worthington and Zack Shadle hit consecutive sixth-inning singles. South Williamsport pitcher Billy Rummings had 10 strikeouts through five innings of the tie game, but immediately coach Shawn Finn signaled that Cody Nelson was coming in.
Rummings was outstanding Monday at South, and has been all season. Nelson is playing varsity baseball for the first time. That Finn had so much confidence bringing Nelson into that tough no-out situation reveals everything one wants to know about Nelson. He is young, but he is bigger than the moments he has been placed in.
Nelson proved it again Monday, retiring the side in order while stranding runners on second and third. He struck out the side in the seventh too and Justin Knee and Tyler House provided clutch hits that produced three sixth-inning runs as South won, 5-2. The Mounties improved to 6-0 and now have wins over the 2012 Class A and AA District 4 champions.
Zach Staver of South Williamsport fields a high throw as Cam McHenry of Montgomery is safe stealing second base Monday at South. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
"Nelson, like he's been doing all year, came in and closed the door for us," Finn said. "Cody throws a lot of strikes. He's always around the plate and he has a beautiful curveball and it's good to get him in those situations."
Nelson has allowed just one run in eight innings and has become an effective closer. This was his most difficult challenge yet, especially with the heart of Montgomery's order coming up. Adding to the task, Nelson first had to face Cam McHenry who was 2-for-2 with a first-inning home run.
McHenry belted the ball again but right at left field for the first out. Nelson then induced a grounder that moved the runners to second and third. The tall sophomore went up 0-2 on Corey Kriner before the speedy center fielder hit a slow roller to shortstop Zach Staver. Staver made a nice bare-handed stop and throw that beat Kriner by inches.
Just like that, Nelson had showed that while he might be anxious on the inside, he was cool and collected on the outside. Just like that, he had changed the game's complexion.
"I was really nervous at the beginning when I was going in there. I got shaken a bit but after I fought through it and started feeling a little better I just kept fighting it off," Nelson said. "I didn't want to give up any runs and just tried as hard as I can."
"That's huge confidence for him and as coaches we know we can rely on him," Finn said. "We got out of the inning with no damage done and that woke up our dugout a little bit and we came in and started hitting and did some good things on the bases."
Nelson reached on an error to start the bottom of the sixth before pinch-runner Dominick Bragalone stole second. Nick Mistretta hit a long flyball to right field that moved Bragalone to third and he scored two batters later on Knee's RBI single to right field. Montgomery pitcher Alex Worthington effectively pitched out of trouble all day and nearly did so again, but House ripped a two-out, two-run single that made it 5-2.
House was outstanding, going 4-for-4 with a double. He was at his best with two strikes. His last three hits were with two strikes and he was behind 1-2 when he belted his clutch two-run single.
"I look for those moments. I love them. They get me excited. I want to be in that situation," House said. "I just felt confident. I went out there and tried to get hits like every other day. He's a good pitcher but you try to do what you can with it."
Worthington scattered eight hits and struck out six. The senior stranded two runs in every inning from the second through fifth and gave Montgomery (4-4) a chance to pull the upset while also going 2-for-3. McHenry put Montgomery up 1-0 in the first with his long home run and tied it at 2-2 in the fourth after hitting an infield single, stealing second and scoring on Kriner's 1-out grounder.
South has won four of its games via routs but came from three down to beat Loyalsock earlier in the year. Like that game, yesterday's was a good experience for a team that has six new starters. Worthington threw well, but South found a way to gut one out.
"We just had to wake up," House said. "We have to realize that we have plenty of tough games coming up so we just need to stay focused."
South tied it 1-1 in the second inning when Joey Balawajder hit a one-out single to score House who had hit a single to spark the rally. Staver made it 2-1 in the third, doing so through his hustle. Staver drew a walk and immediately he noticed the ball skittering away from the catcher. Never breaking stride, the senior rounded first and slid head-first to reach second. That was crucial because he then moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on an error.
Had Staver not reached second off the walk he would not have scored on the error. It was a little thing but those are the things South is doing so well and that is a big reason it remains undefeated.
"I love this team," Mistretta said. "It (the start) has been awesome."
Montgomery100 100 0-2 6 1
South011 003 x-5 8 2
Alex Worthington and Thomas Goetz. Billy Rummings, Cody Nelson (6) and Justin Knee. W-Nelson, (1-0). L-Worthington, (1-3).
Top Montgomery hitters: Worthington 2-3; Cam McHenry 2-3, HR, RBI, 2 R; Goetz 1-3. Top South hitters: Zach Staver 1-3, 2 R; Tyler House 4-4, 2B, 2 RBI, R; Joey Balawajder 1-3, RBI.
Records: South 6-0. Montgomery 4-4.