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Sports

Baseball: Nazareth takes plenty of positives out of run to summer state tournament

Ryan Smith and Teddy Olander are stellar on mound, but Roadrunners struggle to get clutch hit at state

NAPERVILLE – Nazareth senior second baseman Andrew Ortiz swung and missed at the outside pitch from Jacobs reliever Nate Cihak.

The game-ending strikeout epitomized the frustration Nazareth endured at the Phil Lawler Summer Classic.

Ortiz, the No. 9 hitter, had reached base in each of his previous three plate appearances July 16, recording two singles and a walk. But his whiff ended a 4-2 loss at North Central College that eliminated the Roadrunners from the double-elimination state tournament.

As it did in a 2-1 loss to Glenbard South on July 15, Nazareth (14-7) did nearly everything right except come through with a clutch hit. The Roadrunners stranded 13 baserunners and went 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position against Jacobs, and 1-for-23 in the tournament.

“I think it comes down to situational hitting,” Ortiz said. “We’ve been working on it.

“Throughout the entire game, we left guys on base, not just the last inning. Obviously, that’s where the blame goes.”

Jacobs (19-2) didn’t do much against Nazareth starter Ryan Smith, who gave the Roadrunners a 1-0 lead in the first inning when he singled, stole second and third and scored on a groundout by Teddy Olander.

Olander, who pitched against Glenbard South, and Smith gave up just 12 hits in 13 innings, but it wasn’t enough. The Roadrunners left the bases loaded in the second and third innings and wasted a two-on, nobody-out chance in the fifth.

The Eagles, though, got a pair of clutch two-out hits from the bottom of their order. Luke Bellizzi, the No. 8 hitter, gave Jacobs a 2-1 lead in the second when he blooped a double just inside the left-field line.

Nazareth tied the game in the sixth when senior catcher Breven Reifsteck’s sacrifice fly scored Ortiz, who had walked and advanced on an error.

In the seventh, Smith was one strike away from getting out of a jam when Michael Scardina, pinch-hitting for No. 9 hitter Krzysztof Solis, singled up the middle on a 2-2 pitch to score Andrew Balkcom and Bellizzi.

Still, the Roadrunners had a chance. Junior Anthony Milano and sophomore Tristan Headdrew drew one-out walks to bring the winning run to the plate. But Cihak retired Jack Ryan on a roller to first before fanning Ortiz.

That ended Nazareth’s third appearance at the summer state finals and first since the Roadrunners won the 2010 tournament.

“Our pitching was phenomenal,” Reifsteck said. “Our defense did well. It’s just frustrating to have guys on and we don’t score in timely situations.”

The frustration is unlikely to fester, as Nazareth coach Lee Milano liked what he saw this summer from a team made up mostly of first-time starters.

“There’s a lot of positives to pull from these two games,” Milano said. “Great pitching performances by Teddy and Smitty and the defense was outstanding.

“We just didn’t get the timely hit, but a lot of positives. From now until March, what we do in the weight room and how we get stronger and quicker as individuals, that’s only going to help us as a team.”

Reifsteck is used to playing in big games, having appeared in the past two state championship games for Nazareth’s football team as a strong safety and receiver.

“That helped me when we played Brother Rice and St. Rita [in baseball],” Reifsteck said. “You get the nerves out after the first couple innings and then it’s just a kids’ game all over again.”

Ortiz, a first-time varsity starter, said the summer league was instructive.

“It teaches me that there is going to be a lot more similar instances in the spring season,” Ortiz said. “I’ve learned that now that I’m a senior, I’ve got to lead the younger guys like the old seniors led me.”

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