Bellville mentally tough on mound

LANCASTER — Braden Bellville was clutch on the bump.

The Waterford sophomore never panicked when South Webster got baserunners in scoring position early on and late in Thursday’s D4 regional baseball semifinal at Beavers Field.

“Braden’s just a really nice kid, but he’s really tough mentally,” said WHS skipper Doug Huffman after the Wildcats defeated SW, 6-3, to advance to Friday’s Elite 8 showdown against top-ranked Toronto. (Waterford lost 11-1 to the Red Knights.) Bellville pitched a 7-inning complete game to get the win against the Jeeps.

Against the Jeeps, the 6-foot, 180-pound Bellville had a one-two-three first inning, although senior catcher Isaac Huffman had to bail him out when he gunned down the Jeeps’ leadoff batter, trying to steal second.

In the second, Bellville gave up a leadoff single to Bradley Gee, his mound counterpart, and then booted a sacrifice bunt.

South Webster runners on first and second, and nobody out.

Like a lot of pitchers, Bellville had every right to be angry with himself, but he coolly retired the next SW batter, who advanced the two Jeep baserunners with a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt.

Now, South Webster had runners on second and third with one out.

Taking a deep breath, Bellville got the next South Webster batter on a comebacker to the box, and then the next one on a groundout to Noah Huffman at second base to get out of the jam.

Thing is, Bellville has been no stranger to adversity this year.

“He had knee surgery in January,” Doug Huffman said. “He wears that big brace. I think the doctors have tried to hamper him. He’s hard to hold back. He played center field for us last year. The doctors kind of thought that he’d get into third and not out moving. Some of the outfields you get on, they’re not real nice on knees and stuff.”

This spring, when not pitching, Bellville has played at the hot corner or third base.

Meanwhile, in the bottom half of the second inning, Waterford staked Bellville to a 2-0 advantage.

But in the top of the third, South Webster threatened to score again when Alek Blevins drilled a one-out triple to right-center.

Again, though, Bellville got out of the inning unscathed when he got the next Jeep hitter on a groundout to Clay Hayes at short and the next one on a liner to Hayes.

Waterford stretched its lead to 3-0 in the bottom half of the frame. But in the fourth, Bellville got roughed up by the opportunistic Jeeps, who plated three runs off him to tie the score.

South Webster benefitted from a couple of Wildcat errors in the inning. Still, Bellville shouldered the blame.

“They (Jeeps) got some baserunners on in certain situations, and I had to bear down and throw some strikes,” said Bellville after the game. “The defense helped me out greatly.”

Especially Wildcat senior first baseman Riley Burns, who had to dig out a Hayes’ throw from short to end the inning.

In the fifth, Waterford regained the advantage (6-3) when it plated three runs.

After the fourth, Bellville got into one more jam, in the last inning, when the Jeeps got runners on second and third with two outs and the tying run at the plate.

But the Waterford pitcher was able to retire the side and seal the Wildcat victory when he got the No. 3 SW hitter in the batting order on a groundout to second.

“The thing about the kid is he…I think last year as a freshman, I would’ve put him in the same spot in the regional semifinal,” Doug Huffman said. “The kid is just a fantastic kid. I mean, he’s just an all-around kid — academically and all that.”

Oh, yeah, Bellville’s a pretty cool sophomore on the hill as well, especially in a pivotal, school history-making baseball game.