Nease baseball (20-11) won its first-ever state championship in convincing fashion last week, with an 11-0 shutout victory over Tampa Bay’s King High School in the Class 7A title game.
Nease pitcher Leighton Alley was a force on the mound in the June 1 game, pitching a complete game in which he allowed only five hits and left nine men on base. With the victory, he picked up his eighth win of the season and 24th win of his career, which is a new Nease record.
“He’s ‘Mr. Reliable,’” said Panthers head coach Jeremiah Klosterman. “To have a guy like that to go to in the state championship, you have to feel pretty good and confident going into that game.”
Pitcher Eric Linder also played a major role in Nease’s run, pitching strong outings for the team in all three regional games and in the state semifinal.
Nease’s bats were relentless in the state title game, which didn’t end until midnight due to two separate lightning delays earlier in the day. Kyle Huber led the Panthers for the second straight game, going 4-for-5 with five RBIs in the championship, after he hit a key double and triple and scored the winning run in the semi-final game. Jayson Sowden went 2-for-3 with a walk and was also hit by a pitch. In total, the Panthers accumulated 14 hits off three King pitchers.
“They just had that confidence,” said Klosterman. “They jumped on it from the get-go.”
Sowden initiated the Panthers’ offensive firepower in the first inning with a double down the left field line. A throwing error by the Lions later in the inning allowed Sowden to score from second. Alley sent in the final run of the inning on a two-out single, giving Nease an early 2-0 lead.
Moving into the second inning, Huber increased the team’s lead to 4-0 after jacking a two-run homer to left field. The Panthers kept charging in the third, with Alley hitting a single and Jared Whittle stealing a base and then scoring off a Tyler McKay single. Jacob Allsup, who pinch ran for McKay, stole second base, and then Cody Hargus scored him in with a single. Nease went into the fourth inning with a six-run lead.
The Panthers added a run in the fourth inning after Sowden singled, stole second and third base and ultimately scored off a Huber double. The action continued in the sixth when Huber scored in Sowden again on an RBI single after a similar sequence of events. Later in the inning, Jay Gallagher grounded out with the bases loaded, which allowed Huber to score from third base. Nease finished the game with two more runs in the seventh inning, due to RBI doubles from Chris Eichorn and Huber.
Following the win, Klosterman said it’s been an “up and down” season for Nease. The Panthers lost their first two and final three games of the regular season, he noted, and faced their fair share of adversity, with key players such as Patrick Irish, Alley, Sowden and Collin Garner suffering injuries amid a tough schedule of opponents. He noted that these experiences only made the team stronger, adding that the team’s preparation has consistently improved because of the adversity.
Overall, the Nease coach said this is the result his team has been working toward all season.
“It’s tough to believe,” said Klosterman. “To actually get it done, it’s an amazing feeling.”