22 K's and no decision
Elijah Wellman may have suffered one of the worst no-decisions in baseball history, but it didn't seem to bother the junior right-hander. Because the long, long evening proved enjoyable for him and his Spring Valley teammates.
Caleb Frye raced home with the winning run on a throwing error in the top of the 13th inning Wednesday, giving the Timberwolves a 2-1 marathon victory over host Nitro at Brandon Matthew Sneed Field.
The win helped erase some of the disappointment for Wellman, who was nothing short of remarkable against the Wildcats (10-3), the No. 7 team in the Gazette's Class AAA state ratings and an elite program that has reached the state tournament five straight years, winning titles in 2008 and 2010.
Wellman started and pitched 10 innings, allowing no hits and striking out 22. The bullpen for the Wolves (6-9) nearly completed the no-hitter, but Nitro's Korey Dunbar singled with two out in the bottom of the 13th. One batter later, the game was over.
"I was on tonight,'' said Wellman, whose fastball has been clocked at 91 miles an hour in a game earlier this season. "We played hard, had a good game today and everybody played as a team.''
Even though Wellman didn't figure in the decision in the 4-hour, 1-minute game - the win went to Josh Steele, the second of three relievers - his effort was impressive nonetheless.
"Their guys did a good job - that's about the best you can say,'' said Nitro coach Steve Pritchard. "They've got two pitchers [Wellman and Billy Sager] that can get them to the state tournament. Those two guys are a good 1-2 punch. They're the two best pitchers we've seen this year.''
Spring Valley's pitching staff finished the game with 27 strikeouts and allowed no earned runs.
Nitro scored without the benefit of a hit in the fourth when Ryan McDonough walked, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a passed ball.
It stayed that way until Spring Valley tied it in the top of the sixth against Nitro starter Kip Brewer, a freshman left-hander. Hunter Waugh beat out a chopper in front of the plate and Sager and Wellman were walked, loading the bases with none out.
Dunbar, the Wildcats' all-state catcher, then took over on the mound. He struck out Alex Combs, but Michael Hardin lofted a fly ball to short left field. Tyler Barton's throw home was late to catch Waugh, but Sager was thrown out at third to end the uprising.
Neither team then scored until Spring Valley broke through in the 13th - and only once did anyone get a runner as far as third. Nitro's McDonough walked in the sixth and appeared to be picked off trying to steal second, but the ball was dropped at the bag and he was ruled safe. McDonough swiped third - one of six steals for Nitro - but was left stranded.
"It comes back to who has more fight and more will,'' Pritchard said. "Their kids had more fight and more will than our kids, in my opinion. The bottom line of the game was who wanted it more, and their guys wanted it more.''
Spring Valley coach Jim Hensley was tinkering with the idea of removing Wellman from the mound after the game went into extra innings.
"I started to [replace Wellman] after seven,'' Hensley said, "but I had to fight him. He said, 'No way. I'm going to keep pitching.' I knew I'd have to fight him to get him out of there. He's a competitor. It seemed like he was throwing just as hard in the seventh and eighth inning.
"We've been kind of frustrated lately, been booting the ball around a bit, but when you have a pitching performance like that, we've got to back them up and make plays. Luckily, we didn't have to make too many plays. Our kids buckled down against a team like this - a quality team. If you can fudge a run around and have them make a bad play, that's what it takes.''
Spring Valley made just one error all game - on the botched pickoff of McDonough in the sixth - and Nitro just three, but two of those came in the fateful bottom of the 13th.
Frye reached on an error by second baseman Evan Eich and was sacrificed to second. He took third on a passed ball and continued around to score when catcher McDonough threw wildly to third.
Dunbar also had a solid pitching effort in his first return to the mound since firing a three-hitter with 20 strikeouts in a 7-0 win at Parkersburg on Friday. Dunbar worked eight innings, allowing just two hits and one unearned run, fanning eight and walking one.
Wellman topped that strikeout effort Wednesday, finishing with his 22 Ks to offset eight of the 10 walks issued by the Timberwolves.
"I wanted to finish what I started,'' Wellman said. "I didn't give up a hit, so I just wanted to keep pitching and finish it out.''