EASTON — Concordia Prep head baseball coach Mike Murtha thought starting pitcher Luke Nelson was a little rattled.
Saints Peter and Paul had an opportunity to rattle Nelson even further Wednesday afternoon, when it loaded the bases against the senior right-hander with two outs in the second inning. But Nelson got an inning-ending groundout to escape the jam, then retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced, as the Saints extended their winning streak to 11 with a 13-1 mercy-rule victory over the Sabres at the Talbot County Community Center.
“I think giving up a hit in the first inning and then we misplayed the ball, it kind of took him off his game a little bit,” Murtha said of Nelson. “And the coaches on the opposing team kind of rattled him a little bit. But once he gets focused he may be the best pitcher in the league.”
Nelson (4-0) certainly looked like one of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference’s best after he got through the first two innings.
Sts. Peter & Paul’s Shawn Reinoehl led off the bottom of the first with a triple to right field and scored one pitch later on a passed ball for a 1-0 lead.
The Saints (11-1, 11-0), the defending MIAA C Conference champion, tied the game 1-1 in the top of the second, when Jacob Hofstetter worked a leadoff walk, stole second and third, then raced home on Andrew Couser’s groundout.
Nelson, who opened the season by throwing back-to-back no-hitters in which he struck out 32 of the 40 batters he faced, seemed to settle into a groove in the second, when he got a called third strike on Kyle Jackson, walked Finns O’Neill, then fanned Sam Lovell. The right-hander then issued consecutive walks to Ryan McHale and Reinoehl, loading the bases. But the Sabres couldn’t capitalize, as Nelson got Colby Jacobs to hit a comebacker for the final out of the inning.
“Can’t get that one,” Sts. Peter & Paul head coach Tony Sala said of his team’s struggles this season to get timely hits. “That’s the story of my baseball team. We’re just that one hit away always.”
The Sabres (6-3, 6-3), who had their three-game win streak snapped, managed just one hit the rest of the way, as Nelson retired 10 straight — which included seven consecutive strikeouts — before yielding Jacobs’ two-out single to right field in the home fifth. Nelson struck out McGuire Perry for the game’s final out and his 12th strikeout of the game.
In six games this season, Nelson, who is headed to Frederick Community College, has allowed just eight hits and three runs. The Sabres finished with three hits on Wednesday.
Sts. Peter & Paul was getting a strong effort from Jackson (2-1), who limited the Saints to just one hit and one run through the first three innings.
But after fanning Nelson to start the fourth, the Sabres’ left-hander surrendered four straight singles, the fourth coming from Andrew Couser (2 for 3, four RBIs), who knocked in Jaden Marine and Jacob Hofstetter for a 3-1 lead. Caleb Crouser’s groundout plated Sam Weiland with the Saints’ fourth run before Jackson got Michael Green to groundout, ending the frame.
Concordia, which has won nine of its 12 games by the 10-run mercy-rule this season, sent 13 men to the plate in the fifth, collecting eight hits and nine runs for a 13-1 lead.
Braden Hofstetter singled to lead off the fifth. Sabre first baseman Nathan Haschen caught Nick Blazek’s pop-up for the first out, but Nelson hit an RBI single and Marine cracked an RBI double, prompting a visit to the mound from Sala. Jackson remained on the mound, gave up a single to Jacob Hofstetter and a walk to Weiland before Sala brought on McHale to relieve.
“He started getting spasms in his back,” Sala said of Jackson, who walked gingerly back to the dugout after the third. “When those seven- and eight-hole hitters start hitting line drives like that I knew he was done.”
McHale finished the inning, but not before Concordia put seven more runs up.
“They’re just a good ball club,” Sala said of Concordia. “It was 1-1 after (three) and then, it’s just one of those things. Our pitcher got tired and they caught up to him and they were just hitting good line drives. They won’t lose in the conference.”
Notes: Perry had the Sabres’ other hit, a one-out double in the first. ... Caleb Courser had three RBIs and Braden Hofstetter, Blazek, Nelson, Marine, and Andrew Couser each had two hits for Concordia, which lost its season opener to Perry Hall Christian.