Alazaus blanks NDCL to advance West Branch

LOUISVILLE — Beau Alazaus, one strike from victory, looked in for the sign from his catcher. The index finger. Fastball. Alazaus checked the runner at first and delivered with an audible grunt. The batter had no chance. Swing and miss. Ballgame.

You might say that was the story of the game, not just that singular at-bat. Alazaus was near-perfect, allowing just four base runners, and one hit, in West Branch’s 1-0 victory over Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin in a Division II district semifinal Monday night at Louisville High School.

“He was the MVP tonight, for sure,” said Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin coach Mark Thibeault. “He had a two-pitch mix. Even if he did get behind [in the count] we did see he was still throwing the off-speed pitch for a strike. Say it’s a 2-1 count, you’re sitting dead red on a pitch that you want. Then he flips in a little bit of a slider-curve, whatever that pitch was, and it evens the count. As a hitter, you’re like, which pitch is coming next, and the next thing you know the fastball is elevated and it’s on you.”

The Warriors (22-6) are the No. 3 seed. They’ll take on No. 11 Geneva (15-6), which has won nine consecutive games, in Wednesday’s championship. The Eagles defeated No. 15 Salem 5-2 in Monday’s first game.

Alazaus, who is 8-1 this season with an ERA of 1.25, allowed a leadoff double to NDCL’s Cerek Szcyglowski, then retired the next three batters on eight pitches. He walked one batter in the second and two others reached on errors.

That was all the offense the No. 10 seed Lions (11-10) could muster. Alazaus finished with seven strikeouts and a walk.

“I felt great today and the defense played good behind me,” said Alazaus. “Carson Wike made a great catch in left field, Gavin [Bell] saved me in the first with a diving [catch]. They all played great today.”

Thibeault also liked how Alazaus held runners.

“We didn’t have a lot of opportunities but when we did … he was pretty quick to the plate,” he said. “He wasn’t picking people off but he was definitely controlling the run game.”

Matching Alazaus virtually pitch-for-pitch was NDCL’s Braeden Kinnaird. He didn’t face a jam until the fourth inning, when Hunter Shields led off with a double. He induced a flyout to medium deep center, then shortstop Frankie Clark made a fantastic running catch behind third base and Kinnaird struck out the next batter looking.

“We had an opportunity three or four times to get a key hit to score runs and it only happened once,” said West Branch coach Rick Mulinix. “But that’s what baseball is at this time. Who gets the bunt down, who plays good defense and who gets the timely hit? Because everybody is good.”

In the fifth West Branch got the run it needed. With one out Jaxon Robb laid down a perfect bunt along the third base line and beat the throw. He stole second and advanced to third on a deep fly to right-center by Gavin Bell.

“Each kid has probably bunted 200 times [in practice] the last three days,” said Rick Mulinix.

Next up was No. 1 hitter Boston Mulinix. Facing Kinnaird for the third time – Mulinix had been called out on strikes both times earlier – he squared up a fastball and sent it over the right fielder’s head.

“Confidence-wise, he knows he’s not been producing like he’s capable of doing,” said Rick Mulinix of his son, who is a junior and just picked up a football offer from Division II Wheeling (W. Va.). “He picked up on something and squared it up and it’s probably a very good confidence builder for him going into Wednesday.”

Alazaus threw 82 pitches and was remarkably consistent; he had between 10 and 13 in every inning.

“The breaking ball was working well,” he said. “I could throw it in any count which really helped.”

Shields led the Warriors with a double and single and was stellar behind the plate, corralling pitches in the dirt. Wike ran far to track down a deep fly ball in left field for the first out in the third inning.

“In that first inning with the leadoff double, I think if we scratch [a run] he [Alazaus] might pitch a little bit differently,” said Thibeault. “I don’t know if we win the game but we might have sustained some momentum.”

Rick Mulinix, meanwhile, is close to running out of superlatives for his ace.

“He’s thrown 67 innings and walked four guys,” said Mulinix. “That’s unheard of. Seventy-some strikeouts to four walks. Those are crazy, stupid numbers.”

Based on records and seeding, West Branch is the favorite on Wednesday. Alazaus said the Warriors will be focused.

“We’ve worried [other] teams too much in the past and now we’re focused on us.”

Geneva 5, Salem 2

The Quakers struck first, scoring in the third inning when Carson Rhodes doubled with a runner on base. Rhodes didn’t see his teammate stop at third but a Geneva throw sailed into left field and both Ben Kuboff and Rhodes scampered home.

The Eagles answered with three runs in the bottom of the inning, though, and added a pair of insurance runs in the fifth.

Geneva’s Logan Queen went 3-for-4 with an RBI triple and he pitched three hitless innings in relief.

Salem’s best chance to add runs came in the fourth. The Quakers loaded the bases on a pair of walks and a single, but with two outs a groundout to the pitcher ended the threat.

Have an interesting story? Contact the Sports Department by email at sports@tribtoday.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribChronSports.


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