Jake Rudnicki answered the bell as Central Catholic’s ace pitcher this season but, at times, a light-hitting Irish offense has limited the team’s success.
Thursday, however, Rudnicki and the Irish bats clicked in unison as Central took a 3-0 victory over Eastwood in a Division II sectional final at Mercy Field.
Rudnicki upped his record to 4-1 with a three-hit shutout, striking out 10 batters and walking three. He lowered his ERA to 0.67 as the Irish (12-12) advanced to a district semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Archbold High School against the winner of today’s Defiance/Napoelon sectional final.
“I just tried to throw good fastballs and throw them off balance with some off-speed pitches like I always do,” said Rudnicki, who will pitch at Ohio University next year. “I tried to stay ahead in the counts and tried not to get down on myself. My strikeout pitch today was my slider.”
Central executed some small ball to take a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning.
Derich Weiland led off with a single to left, then stole second. After Chad Kuebler advanced him to third on a sacrifice bunt, Weiland scored on Ryan O’Hearn’s groundout to second base.
“Our hitters did their jobs, and my part as the pitcher is to get guys out,” Rudnicki said. “It was a total team effort today.
“[Facing elimination] is a big motivator. I don’t want to end my senior year on a bad note. We want to go as far as we can go, and hopefully we can keep this thing going.”
The small-ball formula worked for the Irish again in the fourth.
After Colin Kaucher led off with a sharp single to center, Sean Sullivan bunted him to second base, and Kam Weber later delivered a two-out RBI single to center for a 2-0 Central lead on Eastwood starter Grant Peters.
“We got just enough offense,” said 27th-year Irish coach Jeff Mielcarek, who picked up his 400th career win May 6. “We put the bat on the ball, ran the bases well today, and put down a couple key bunts. We needed all of it.
“Today was one of those days when we got some of those key two-out hits that we haven’t been getting much this year.”
Meanwhile, Rudnicki continued to blank the Eagles. He encountered only minimal threats in the first and fourth innings, when Eastwood (16-7) got a runner as far as second base, and in the fifth, when he stranded Eagles at first and third.
“The one thing that no one will remember about today’s game was that the hidden hero was Derich Weiland,” Mielcarek said. “He made three plays at third base that were all huge, and they prevented big innings.”
The Irish added an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth.
Colin Kaucher’s single to left to gave Central a 3-0 cushion.
“He threw awesome today,” Eastwood coach Kevin Leady said of Rudnicki’s mound effort. “He threw all of his pitches for strikes, kept us off balance, and threw decently hard. He gave them what they needed, and we couldn’t muster anything.
“We had a few opportunities, but we let him off the hook. But credit him: He made his pitches when he needed to.”
Peters allowed seven hits, struck out five, and walked two in six innings. The Eagles’ three hits were singles by Ryan Mang, Jake Schmeltz, and David Krukemyer in the third, fourth, and fifth innings, respectively.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6461, or on Twitter@JungaBlade.