COPLAY It's tough enough battling opposing hitters.
But for Pleasant Valley pitcher Xavier Hammond, that was the easy part.
With a berth in the District 11 Class AAAA finals on the line, the Bears' left-hander dealt was a small strike zone early in Thursday's semifinal game against Nazareth. Hammond also had to cope with two long lightning delays, and then watched as his defense gave up an unearned run.
In between those distractions, all the junior did was throw a one-hitter to lead his team to an impressive 6-1 victory.
"That was absolutely his best effort this season," said PV head coach Karl Rentzheimer. "We pretty much agreed that if X came out and gave us a strong first couple innings we felt we'd be okay.
"He came mentally prepared today. I think he grew as a pitcher and a competitor in the (MVC) championship game and that helped him today. He was unbelievably efficient. To work through what he did on the mound and then with the delays, he was pretty focused."
Only four batters reached base against Hammond, who needed just 81 pitches (58 strikes) to improve to 7-1 on the season. Of those four baserunners, the only hit was a clean single up the middle by DJ King in the fourth inning.
"With all the delays it was hard to get warmed up," said Hammond, who forced 10 ground-ball outs and nine fly outs. "I had to get my curve ball back to where I had it before and it's hard to do that at times.
"I felt good today. I was dropping pitches where I wanted to today. This was probably one of my best performances and one of the most exciting. We were able to stay on top the whole game and that helps me, being able to pitch with a lead."
Pat Kregeloh's RBI single in the first inning and a run-scoring double by Rob Getz in the second staked Hammond to a 2-0 advantage.
After the game's first delay, though, the Blue Eagles seemed to gain some momentum. Resuming play with a runner on third and two outs, Hammond struck out Chris Kent on a pitch low in the dirt. The throw to first, however, was high and wide allowing Nazareth to get on the board.
Any momentum on the Eagles' part quickly disappeared in the home third when PV answered back. After Kregeloh walked, Jake Chamberlain drilled a two-run homer over the leftfield fence to make it 4-1.
"He (Nazareth pitcher Drew Hercik) threw me a fastball down the middle and I took it," said Chamberlain, who also was busy at his third base position with seven assists and two putouts. "I was looking for something off-speed, just waiting back on the ball, and a curveball came in. It was a little high, a hanger, and I drove it to left."
"I think that helped change the momentum of the game. Everybody got excited after that. Everyone was off the bench more, and screaming more."
While Hammond continued to close the door, the Bears (21-3) kept tacking on runs.
Derrik Walling's short fly to left in the fourth dropped just fair to up the margin to 5-1 while Tim Shea doubled and scored in the sixth.
"After the delay we get a strikeout but the error allows a run to score and you think they may get some life," said Rentzheimer. "But then Jake comes up and bangs one out. That was huge. I think at that point the kids believed and knew they could win."
Walling and Kregeloh each finished with two hits for Pleasant Valley while Drew Borger also had a double and run scored.
The Bears will play either Easton or Parkland in the D-11 finals, which is tentatively scheduled for Thursday eveing at Coca-Cola Park.
Nazareth 001 000 0 - 1 1 1
Pleasant Vy. 112 101 x - 6 9 2
Hercik, Smith (4) and Dauscher; Hammond and D'Arcy. W - Hammond. L - Hercik. HR: Pleasant Vy. - Chamberlain (3rd, one on).