Pioneer ace Herstine ‘flings the mud’ in relief

WESTERVILLE – Christian Herstine was Marietta College’s “bullpen guy” Saturday after pitching a 1-0 shutout against Baldwin Wallace University last Thursday in the opening day of the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament at Fishbaugh Field.

“He wanted to throw in the bullpen, and he did that,” said MC skipper Brian Brewer after the Pioneers (28-15) edged the Yellow Jackets, 6-5, to claim their 31st tourney championship.

The 6-foot-3 senior right-hander was in the BP in case there was a need for him to come out and toe the rubber in the game.

Well, guess what, Herstine got the call in the top of the ninth inning with the Yellow Jackets (23-20) threatening. Oh, were they ever with baserunners buzzing off first and second with one out.

Previous to Herstine’s relief appearance, Marietta starter Tyler Nieberding had thrown five scoreless frames and was staked to a 3-0 lead, thanks to Tim McCoy’s two-run homer in the bottom of the third.

Nieberding gave up a run in the top of the sixth but came back to pitch a scoreless seventh.

“I thought Tyler was exceptional,” Brewer said.

Nieberding, though, was relieved in the eighth by Kordell Antill, who struggled, allowing two BW runs, which tied the score at 3-all.

“Kordell’s not a guy to get lefties out, and I think four of the first (BW) guys he faced were left-handed, so that may have been a little bit of a mistake on my part,” Brewer said. “But he settled in and got some outs.”

After MC regained the lead in the bottom half of the frame, 6-3, on McCoy’s 3-run shot to right-center, Antill came out in the top of the ninth to try to close the game out and send the Pioneers on to the regional tournament in the upcoming week.

But after getting the first Yellow Jacket on a flyout, Antill gave up a single, then a walk, and all of a sudden BW had the potential tying run up at the plate in the name of leadoff hitter Spencer Badia.

It was time to summon Herstine on just one to two days rest.

Mind you on the other side in the eighth, BW reliever Tom Loeffler had pitched the day before on Friday, and had thrown 146 pitches. The Yellow Jacket righty no doubt believed (as did his coach) that he was good to go for a couple of more innings on the bump but he got tagged pretty good by McCoy.

Now, Herstine was in a similar jam. Was he ready?

“It’s alive,” said Herstine of his right arm after the game. “I felt like everything was there.”

Thing is, Herstine, Brewer, and everybody there in the ballpark hadn’t counted on the sudden appearance of the rain, which was intense now and coming down in sheets.

Against Badia, Herstine threw a wild pitch, and then walked (not intentionally) the BW third baseman to load the bases.

Stepping into the batter’s box was Cole Nieto, the Yellow Jackets’ leading home run hitter with five. Well, he popped out to first for the second out.

Up next was Mark Zimmerman, one of the OAC’s premier players.

Meanwhile, Herstine was getting a little frustrated with the downpour.

“It’s just that I had no cleats,” he said.

“I don’t know if you saw but I had no cleats. Did you see me fling the mud basically to second base? There was nothing. No traction, nothing.”

Play was then temporarily halted to let the grounds crew do its job on the mound.

As soon as they brought that stuff out (to the mound), thank goodness,” Herstine said. “And, then, as soon as they did that, it stopped raining. Go figure.”

Herstine got two strikes on Zimmerman, and tried to slip a third by the BW shortstop. Didn’t happen, though, as Zimmerman drilled a sharp single to center, plating two runs.

“He hit it right by my head,” Herstine said. “I wanted to reach out and snag it, but…a little hard (to do).”

Now, all Herstine had to do was retire Baldwin Wallace’s clean-up hitter and left-handed-swinging Hunter Handel with two runners on base to end the game.

And, all the Yellow Jackets needed was a little single to knot the score (or even go ahead), but they didn’t get it as Handel hit a chopper back to Herstine, who tossed the ball to teammate Mike Hale for the final out.

“Christian was good enough to get us the championship,” said Brewer, smiling. “We’re just happy to have an opportunity to play somewhere (in the regional tournament) next week.”

Ron Johnston is a Marietta Times sports writer, and can be reached at (740)373-2121, x534, or at rjohnston@mariettatimes.com