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Nick Church’s big day leads Bristol to district final

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Bristol’s Nick Church gets set to throw a pitch Tuesday against St. John. He finished with 11 Ks and allowed just 2 hits.

FAIRPORT HARBOR — It wasn’t pretty, but tournament wins don’t need to be.

Bristol baseball is on its way to its second-ever district title game, after taking down Ashtabula St. John, 4-3, in a Division IV Fairport Harbor District semifinal contest Tuesday.

St. John struck first, scoring off a passed ball, but Bristol punched back in the bottom of the second, scoring three runs.

“The first inning we put the ball in play, didn’t score any runs there, but I just told them ‘Keep on putting the ball in play’, and we put the ball in play in the second or third innings and it led to runs,” Panthers coach Jeff Thompson said. “This is a game that three weeks ago, I don’t know if we would have won because we just didn’t have that mental focus.

“Even though it wasn’t pretty at times, we always stayed focused on what we’re supposed to do.”

One of the team’s biggest catalysts this season has been Nick Church, who started on the mound, has not only been a star on the field, but has been crucial in the dugout as well.

He scored the team’s final run of the afternoon, stealing home after a fielding error.

“Nick Church goes out and throws 124 pitches, he can read people, steal a base, score a run, he’s just an excellent baseball player,” Thompson said.

With two outs and two runners on in the top of the seventh, Church reached his pitch count and had to be pulled.

In steps Hadyn Mahan.

Mahan, with plenty of pressure on him, struck out the final St. John batter to ice the game

“He came in and finished it up,” Thompson said. “That was a pressure situation for him and he handled it very well. We made an error in the field, and then he came back in and made these guys strike and struck out the last batter. That’s just cool and calm under pressure. I’ve got to give him a lot of credit.”

Widely regarded as a basketball school, Thompson is doing his part to change that perception of Bristol being a school for athletes.

For reference, 11 of the 15 players, as well as Thompson, who is an assistant coach, are a part of the program.

“I always talk about how Bristol is an athlete school,” he said. “I don’t care what sport it is. Basketball, baseball, soccer, whatever sport you’re playing, be an athlete. Our goal is to be as successful in baseball as it is basketball. I think 11 of the 15 played basketball so we know what it takes. They know what it takes to win. … Over the last four or five years we’ve actually had some success baseball-wise over here. We just want to continue it.”

Church and the senior class have fueled that growth. As freshmen, the Panthers reached the district finals only to fall to Mathews.

Like their softball counterparts, Bristol gets to bookend their careers with district final appearances. They hope to match them this season by hoisting a district championship trophy as well.

The Panthers (13-13) advance to Thursday’s district final at Fairport Harbor where they’ll take on Jackson-Milton. First pitch is set for 5 p.m. The winner will advance to the regional at Gates Mills.

byauger@tribtoday.com

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