Like an Ohio riverboat gambler, Beverly/Lowell American Legion baseball skipper Todd Engle had an ace in the hole - and he knew it.
Knowing when to use that ace judiciously is probably one of the reasons why District 11 champion Post 389/750 will be competing in the state tournament in Athens, starting July 27.
That ace, of course, is Evan Brockmeier.
Mixing his fastball and breaking pitches nicely, the former Marietta Tiger righty was the winning pitcher three times in the District 11 Tournament, played at Jay Payton Field in Zanesville last week. He also picked up a save in the winner-take-all game, a 6-3 Beverly/Lowell triumph over favored St. Clairsville Post 159 on Saturday.
Without Brockmeier, who plays shortstop when not throwing...well, let's not even think about it.
Engle, no doubt, will be handing the ball to Brockmeier, who is expected to toe the rubber for Post 389/750 (17-18) in its state tournament opener. That's almost a no-brainer.
Brockmeier was the starting pitcher when Beverly/Lowell opened up the District 11 tournament with an 11-5 win over Cambridge Post 84 on July 12. While he gave up five runs, only one was earned.
Interestingly, as a Marietta Tiger hurler this past spring, Brockmeier allowed only five earned runs the entire season. He finished the campaign with a sparkling 8-1 mound mark and a 0.59 ERA.
Against Cambridge, Brockmeier went the 9-inning distance on the hill, striking out seven, walking one, and giving up seven hits. He also helped his own cause with three hits.
Beverly/Lowell stumbled to its second district game, dropping a controversial 6-2 decision to St. Clairsville last Wednesday. That put Post 389/750 in the losers bracket and one setback away from going home.
In an elimination game last Friday, Beverly/Lowell played and edged a scrappy Marietta/Belpre Post 64/495 squad, 4-3. With the score tied 3-3 in the seventh inning, Engle made a pitching change and brought in Brockmeier for starter Brandon Starr, who threw well in the contest.
It proved to be a pivotal move as Brockmeier tossed three scoreless innings and got the win when Beverly/Lowell plated a run in the top of the ninth inning. In the bottom half of the frame, Marietta/Belpre threatened, but the Post 389/750 ace bore down and got out of the jam.
It was on to Saturday's championship round, and Beverly/Lowell needed to defeat St. Clairsville twice to advance to state.
In the first game, Beverly/Lowell lefty Josiah Fryman started on the hill, and threw well. Post 389/750, though, fell behind 3-0, and things weren't looking too good.
After Brockmeier relieved Fryman in the sixth, Beverly/Lowell was able to stage a late-game rally, with a run in the seventh and three more in the eighth, to win 4-3. Once again, Brockmeier hurled scoreless baseball.
Righty Tyler Stevens started the ensuing decisive game but after walking home one run and hitting a batter for another, he was relieved by Chad Stengel, who was outstanding on the hill.
Beverly/Lowell's bats, meanwhile, came alive, and the team rallied for the second time that day, taking a 6-3 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. Stengel was able to get one out but then struggled when St. Clairsville got two runners on base.
It didn't take Engle long to decide what to do next: give the ball to Brockmeier.
Brockmeier, though, got behind in the count against the first St. Clairsville batter he faced but came back and got the whiff on a called third strike. He then got the next Post 159 hitter, the potential tying run at the plate, to hit the ball to Stengel at second base.
Just an ace in the right place at the right time - and now it's on to Athens.
Ron Johnston is The Marietta Times sports editor, and can be reached at 376-5441, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.