Parkway catcher Alex Julio endures pain, leads team to final
East Lansing – Ah, the life of a catcher. Most games are fairly practicable. Your pitcher might have his control and some days he doesn’t. That’s manageable.
It didn’t Alex Julio long to figure out that Friday would not be a normal day behind the plate.
Sterling Heights Parkway Christian played Centreville (28-4) in a Division 4 semifinal with the winner advancing to Saturday’s final at McLane Stadium on Michigan State’s campus at 3 p.m.
It was the most important game Julio would play to this point and it was one he would have to tough out.
The Parkway Christian senior catcher took a foul tip off the back of his right hand in the second inning. Home plate umpire Jeff Sandora did his best to allow the sting in Julio’s hand to subside as he brushed off the dirt from the plate and slowly returned to his position behind Julio.
In each of the next two innings Julio’s head shook as foul tips rung off of his mask.
Julio continued to show resilience. His responsibility was to manage the game and his pitcher, Andrew Manier. Manier, one of his best friends who will be a teammate of his next season at Spring Arbor University. Manier was in the process of pitching a gem. Manier allowed his first base hit with one out in the fourth and shutout Centreville until the seventh.
Julio would later call Manier’s performance “special”.
Julio did good work at the plate, too. He reached base safely in all four of his plate appearances, had two RBI and scored a run.
But his body kept taking a beating.
He hit a grounder to shortstop in the sixth and as he raced across the bag at first he stumbled, hit the dirt and reached for his lower left leg. A few seconds later Julio got up, walked around and motioned to the team trainer, Janelle Jaha that he was alright. He had rolled an ankle but that alone wasn’t going to keep him from playing.
The next inning Julio was hit by a pitch. The sting quickly went away as Julio trotted down to first having batted in Parkway Christian’s fifth run in what would be a 5-1 victory for the Eagles.
Manier did yeoman service as he allowed three hits and two walks for a complete-game victory.
“A tough game?” Julio repeated a question asked. “It was. One of the toughest I’ve had. I’m a catcher. You get used to it.
“I’m a senior. This is my first state championship. This is the first championship game I will have ever played in.”
It’s a special time for all the competitors in East Lansing this weekend. Whether one plays baseball, softball or soccer, and whether your team wins a state championship or not, just being a part of this tournament weekend, the last of the season, it’s something they’ll always remember. Even if you do get your bell rung from time to time.
Portland St. Patrick 2, Gaylord St. Mary 0
St. Patrick will be Parkway Christian’s opponent in Saturday’s 2 p.m. final as St. Patrick freshman Nathan Lehnert went six innings and allowed five hits, all singles, including three to Josh Nowicki.
Travis Moyer came in relief to earn the save. Moyer gave up a leadoff walk then retired the next three batters.
“Nervous? Yes,” Lehnert said. “When we started to make plays I wasn’t so nervous. We just went at it like any other game.”
Both coaches, Koch and Bryan Scheurer of St. Patrick made pitching decisions that worked beautifully. Both saved their aces for the state final. It’s a strategy that often backfires but not on this day.
Koch will go with senior Riley McManus and Scheurer will go with Travis Moyer. Moyer pitched the seventh inning on Friday, walked one before retiring the final three batters.
A key inning for Lehnert and his team was the sixth when St. Mary (37-2-1) had runners on first and second with one out. Billy Koenig was caught stealing third on a fine throw from catcher Brendan Schrauben to Moyer, who was playing third base at the time.
St. Mary left the bases loaded in the second, third and sixth innings as Lehnert continuously made good pitches in tight situations.
“All he’s done as a freshman is go 8-0 with a 1.00 ERA,” Scheurer said. “Some people say that was taking a risk. I don’t see it that way. To bring Travis back twice after three days’ rest was too much.”
Moyer pitched in last Saturday’s regional then went seven innings in Tuesday’s 3-2 quarterfinal victory over Muskegon Catholic Central.
The Shamrocks scored runs in the first and fifth innings. Dan Mackowiak’s bunt single scored Brendan Schrauben with the first run and Brandon Scheurer’s single knocked in the second.
Both teams made two errors but both runs were earned.
Nicholas Torsky went the distance for St. Mary (31-6) and allowed five hits and three walks.