EUGENE, Ore. —
Good defense is an expectation at an NCAA Regional. Most teams that make the NCAA postseason have some modicum of pitching and defense.
Saturday’s game between Indiana State and Austin Peay went well beyond that standard as both teams made several plays that would be considered the best play in any other game.
The result was a 1-0 victory for the Governors in the Eugene Regional. While the Govs won the game, the defensive battle was a stalemate of sorts, as both teams robbed runs from the other.
“It was an unbelievable game. Their second baseman made a great play. Their third baseman made two big league plays there. We made some plays too. It was unbelievable defense. The outcome – 1-0 – was a result of that,” Austin Peay coach Gary McClure said.
The play that stood out was Austin Peay center fielder Michael Blanchard’s circus catch of a would-be Ryan Walterhouse home run in the fourth inning. Blanchard scaled the left-center field wall at the last minute and robbed the Sycamores of what would have been the go-ahead run.
But that was far from the only great play.
The tone was set in the first inning when Austin Peay left fielder Cody Hudson made a diving stab on a Rob Ort liner hit into the left-center field gap. It also cost ISU a run as Jeremy Lucas was on third base.
Down 1-0 after the fourth inning, the Sycamores flashed the leather from there.
Walterhouse made an outstanding stab on a blistering ground ball hit by Hudson down the right-field line and nailed him at first base in the fifth inning. One play later, Jon Hedges made a dangerous dive in front of the APSU dugout on a foul ball to end the frame.
ISU second baseman Koby Kraemer saved the best play for the sixth inning. With Governors on second and third, Rolando Gautier hit a soft liner to Kraemer’s left at second base. Fully extended, Kraemer dove and snared the flair out of midair. Had it dropped, APSU would have scored at least one run on the play.
“You had two teams playing for their lives and you had both teams’ best focus. It usually leads to great defensive games when both teams are dialed in like that,” ISU coach Rick Heller said.
n Manaea pickoff move befuddles Govs – In addition to the outstanding defense, ISU starting pitcher Sean Manaea stymied the Govs with his sublime pickoff move.
Three Govs runners were picked off first base, ending three different threats for APSU. Manaea had five official pickoffs prior to the regional, but in actual fact, he had several others. They were sometimes officially scored as a caught stealing.
“It was different than any move I’ve seen. He’s so slow and deliberate with it. It lulls you to sleep. He makes his move and his throw home look so alike. He was really a good read guy. It’s different than anybody we’ve ever faced. I don’t think I have his move figured out now,” McClure said.
Manaea’s pickoff magic brought the lone smile to the faces of ISU coach Rick Heller and teammate Walterhouse after the game as Manaea recounted his move.
“It’s just awesome. [Players] told me after my first pickoff I could just walk people and pick them off. It’s nice having it. Rick taught me. All the credit to him,” Manaea said.
McClure was impressed by more than just Manaea’s move.
“I might go so far to say he’s the best pitcher we’ve seen this year. The kid can really pitch. His fastball jumped about 10 feet from home plate and he was just wild enough to be effective. He’d throw a curveball once in a while that was dynamite,” McClure said.
n Closing time – Ten Sycamores officially called it a career after the loss. Kyle Burnam, Jeff Miera, Lucas Hileman, Reggie Hochstedler, Patrick Foster, Chris Machado, Jon Hedges, Brandon Dorsett, Brandon Flora and Walterhouse all exhausted their eligibility.
ISU was 138-87 during the last four seasons. It’s the first time since 2003 ISU has had four consecutive winning seasons.
Several other MLB Draft-eligible Sycamores are also expected to depart. Juniors Dakota Bacus, Ryan Torgerson, Rob Ort and Jeremy Lucas are all possibilities to be selected later this month.