By Brad Morris
Circleville senior Nick Burns showed on Monday what it means to have poise through adversity.
After grabbing a 1-0 lead in the first inning, Waverly loaded the bases with two outs in the second and had runners on second and third with no one out in the third. Burns was equal to the challenge on both occasions, leaving all five runners stranded.
“The game was won in the second and third innings,” Circleville coach Brian Bigam said. “Nick was not as sharp as he normally is early on and was guiding the ball, but he stepped up, showed his poise and made some big-time pitches to get out of those jams.
“When you get out of a bases loaded jam and then get out of a second and third jam with no outs, that’s a big momentum swing and our guys eventually backed up Nick at the plate.”
Circleville did just that by scoring twice in the third and four more times in the fourth to take control of a Division II Southeast District sectional semifinal and run-rule visiting Waverly 11-1 in six innings.
The eighth-seeded Tigers (14-11) advance to a sectional final on Wednesday at top-seeded and No. 3 state-ranked Jackson (20-3), which disposed of Vinton County 10-0 in its sectional semifinal.
Burns seemed on his way to having an easy second inning as he retired the first two hitters on a pop out and strikeout, but Waverly loaded the bases on an error, single and walk. After falling behind 2-1 in the count, Burns came back to strike Jase Hurd out swinging to end the inning.
“That was a little scary because I fell behind and it went to a full-count where all the runners are moving,” Burns said. “I knew that I needed to execute, and I threw a curveball there and got the job done.”
Ninth-seeded Waverly (12-10) opened the third with back-to-back doubles, but Burns responded again by inducing a groundout back to the mound, followed by striking out Dawson Shoemaker and Christian Mossbarger swinging to leave two more runners stranded.
While Burns handled the adversity he faced, the same could not be said for Waverly. A combination of errors, wild pitches, a passed ball and a balk by Waverly aided Circleville in taking control of the sectional semifinal.
Circleville came to life offensively in the third with one out on back-to-back singles from Nolan West and Scott Moats to put runners on the corners. A balk by pitcher Alex Boles allowed West to score and Moats to advance to second.
Following a walk to Wyatt Thatcher and a line out, Moats and Thatcher moved up on a double steal. Angelo Travis swung at strike three, but a passed ball on the play allowed Moats to score and Travis to reach base, giving Circleville the lead for good at 2-1.
“As soon as we got our first hit, we kept it rolling offensively,” Moats said. “(Boles) is a good pitcher who is going to play at the next level, so that had us motivated to hit and we put some things together after we saw him the first time through.
“We also came into the game with confidence, because we beat Waverly before (9-3 on April 26) and we knew we could do it again.”
Circleville went right back to work in the fourth. Austin Gray walked and Drew Thornsley reached on an error. Matt Bradley followed with a bunt single that allowed Gray to come around and score. West then singled to right to drive in Thornsley.
Bradley and West both scored on wild pitches to give Circleville a 6-1 lead.
“We took advantage of Waverly not making some plays and having some miscues,” Bigam said. “And once you get the lead, that allows you to play a little small ball and get our run game going with guys like Scott Moats and Matt Bradley.”
Circleville scored five more runs in the sixth, highlighted by a two-run single by Logan Smith and RBI single courtesy of Burns, to walk-off with the sectional semifinal win.
West and Moats helped to set the table for the Tigers by each going 2-for-4 with two runs scored. West also drove in a run. Smith and Bradley each singled and drove in two runs.
Burns retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced. He allowed six hits, an earned run, walked two and struck out seven in the complete game effort.
“It was inevitable we were going to start hitting, because we’ve hit the baseball all season,” Burns said. “That helps to make my nerves go away and makes me feel even more comfortable pitching. They have their job to do, and I am going to do my job.”
“Nick had success throwing inside and getting some quick outs and strikeouts in the later innings once he found his groove,” Bigam added.
The Tigers now turn their attention to Jackson as they try and advance to district tournament play for the first time since 2019.
“All we ask of our guys is to come out here and compete on every single pitch, every time they take the field,” Bigam said. “Jackson is a very, very good baseball team, but that’s why we play a tough non-league schedule and face teams like Liberty Union and (Louisville pitching signee and future MLB Draft Pick) Jacob Miller in our league to prepare for teams like Jackson.”