LIMA — Nothing could slow down Lima Central Catholic right-hander Nick Watkins.
Not the Bath bats.
And not a foul ball he lined off his calf while he was batting in the fifth inning.
Watkins shook off a sore calf and fired a 1-0 three-hitter to knock off Bath in the Division III baseball district championship game Saturday at University of Northwestern Ohio.
LCC (19-12) advances to the regional semifinals against the Genoa/Evergreen winner at 2 p.m. Thursday at Elida’s Ed Sandy Field. Bath ends the year 16-13.
It was vintage Watkins. He had it all working, much like the day he pitched in the state championship game last year and lost 1-0 on a two-hitter.
By the third inning Watkins was throwing his fastball, hard curve, big soft curve and change-up for strikes. Watkins went the distance and gave up three hits, struck out three and walked none. He threw 76 pitches, 46 for strikes.
“I’m not a strikeout pitcher. I get groundballs and make our defense work,” Watkins said. “The key was moving the fastball inside and outside on the good Bath hitters. I wanted to mix speeds and hit my spots. I had my knucklecurve and the 12-6 over-the-top curve. We were throwing 3-2 curveballs. It was great.”
Watkins had 13 ground-ball outs and four fly-ball outs. He didn’t give up a hit after the fourth.
“He settled down and he was hitting spots with everything,” LCC coach John Schnieders said. “He had all of his pitches and was hitting his location. He was virtually flawless from the third inning on. Of all the great games he’s thrown for us the last two years, this might be the best one in terms of a tactician going out and hitting spots.
“And we played defense behind him, which built his confidence that we could make the plays behind him.”
Colin Stolly had three putouts and three assists at shortstop, while freshman third baseman Ethan O’Connor and second baseman Drew Jennings both had three assists.
LCC’s only run came in the home third inning. Ben Stolly singled and went to second on O’Connor’s bunt. Colin Stolly hit a slow roller to deep second that he beat out for a hit. The Bath second baseman got to the ball, but threw it well over the first baseman’s head to score Ben Stolly from second.
The only scary moment for Watkins came after he fouled a ball off his calf in the fifth, and he was rubbing it as he took the mound in the sixth.
“It felt like a ball was in there,” he said. “But when I threw my pitches it didn’t hurt to plant my foot. It only hurt when I was running.”
For LCC, designated hitter Connor Dee went 2 for 3. Dee’s sore right elbow has placed him in the DH spot, instead of catching the second half of the year.
Norton threw a gem himself, going six innings giving up one unearned run on five hits. He struck out six and walked two. Norton threw 90 pitches, 57 for strikes.
Norton (3-3) got in trouble twice, as LCC loaded the bases in the fourth and fifth innings. But both times he got the big strikeout for the final out to end the threat.
“In all honesty, he’s done exactly what he’s done all year long,” Bath coach Brian Jesko said. “He pounded the strike zone and did everything in his power to keep us in the baseball game and got us out of some situations we put ourselves in with bases loaded twice. I’m proud of his effort.”
Bath catcher Cody Schuerman helped Norton by blocking numerous balls in the dirt and catching two tricky strike-three curveballs just before they hit the dirt.
In the end, it took one unearned run and Watkins battling until the end.