Only 24 hours after giving up a two-run walk-off homerun to Lower Sussex’s Garrett Casale, in what would be the first game of the Major League baseball All-Star championship, Nanticoke pitcher Hunter Absher would redeem himself.
Nanticoke led 3-0 until Absher gave up four runs on three hits in the final two innings, in a 4-3 losing effort.
Lower Sussex’s opening-round loss to Georgetown left little wiggle room, but its 4-3 Game One comeback win of the District III championship marked the team’s fifth straight win. Only one game separated them from the state tournament, but Nanticoke’s pitching proved too strong.
Nanticoke ended Lower Sussex’s Cinderella tournament in a 6-1 win behind the arms of Shane Marvel and Absher.
After waxing leadoff batter Max Wilkinson for called strikeout, Nic Moffitt blasted a single up the middle and Tyler Dean drew a full count walk. But that was as much damage as they could do to Marvel — and to Nanticoke, for that matter.
Marvel countered to strike out the remaining two batters in the first, retired the side in the second and struck out the first batter of the third inning before succumbing to an elbow injury.
Marvel threw only one type of pitch: a hard, thrusting fastball. Of the 33 total pitches he tossed, only two swings made contact and only one of those resulted in a hit (the other was a foul ball). So when the softer-tossing Absher entered the game, Lower Sussex wasn’t able to adapt.
“Marvel throws very hard,” Lower Sussex head coach Greg Moffitt said, “but Absher deserves a lot of credit. We were so geared up for hard fastballs and he did a good job keeping us off balance.”
Absher rocked nine Lower Sussex batters to sleep with his curveball — including Game One hero Casale — and of his 53 pitches tossed, 31 landed for strikes.
“His curveball looked like a fastball out of his hand, but it just dropped,” Casale said.
Lower Sussex outfielder Max Vickers started their rally the day before by tagging Absher for a two-out single to shallow left-centerfield. Wilkinson doubled him in and Dean’s solo homerun in the fifth cut Nanticoke’s lead to 3-2 before Casale’s walk-off homerun won the game.
“He didn’t seem like he was throwing that fast (in warm-ups) so I just stuck my bat out their trying to make contact,” Vickers said.
Devastated that he’d allowed Lower Sussex another chance at the state tournament, that night Absher bent his entire mind on pitching in the final championship game.
“I felt pretty good after giving up the homerun because I knew we still had a really good chance of going to states(despite losing the game before). But I really wanted to pitch again in the championship game,” Absher said. “I knew I’d have to raise my level of play (from the previous game) if we were going to win.”
Nanitcoke’s head coach Artie Purdue never blinked when he realized he’d have to replace Marvel.
“Hunter’s a gamer, “Purdue said, “and that’s why I put him back out there. He loves competition and has a great head on his shoulders. I talked to him last night and told him not to worry about the last game and to come ready to play.”
“In my opinion, he has one of the best curveballs, and when you can throw those for strikes it makes it tough for the other team to hit — especially when they sitting back looking for fastballs.”
Lower Sussex’s starting pitcher Brian Bacon scored the team’s lone run (6-1) on a two-out past pitch to Moffitt. But his pop-out the next pitch stranded Wilkinson at second, ending a potential rally.
In the four games prior to the championship round, Lower Sussex put up 52 runs and throughout the tournament had won two games from behind. Despite their shortcomings in the final game, Moffitt was pleased with their performance.
“We had to play a couple games with only nine or 10 players due to travel and injuries,” Moffitt said. “But we played as a team and I was very proud of our efforts. Everybody had an opportunity to play and everyone did a phenomenal job.”