DETROIT — Orchard Lake St. Mary’s senior relief pitcher Jasen Oliver sure knows how to write a great script.
Although it wasn’t intentional, Oliver made St. Mary’s final out in a 3-2 win over Detroit Catholic Central a lot more dramatic than initially intended as the Eaglets claimed the Catholic High School league’s Cardinal Division baseball tournament championship.
With St. Mary’s holding a 3-2 lead over Detroit Catholic Central heading into the top of the seventh on Wednesday night at The Corner Ballpark in Detroit, Oliver took the mound for a chance to give the Eaglets their fourth consecutive CHSL tournament championship.
After retiring the first two batters of the inning with a ground out and a strikeout looking, Oliver seemed poised to close the game without any fuss.
Yet, Catholic Central responded with singles from Jaden Pydyn, Evan Haeger and a walk drawn by Trae Cassidy to load the bases.
That brought up Catholic Central slugger Brady Blakita, who had ripped a triple to deep right field that bounced into the wall in the fourth inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, Catholic Central had a chance to steal the lead back with a single.
Oliver knew he could only look to himself in order to get out of the jam he put himself in.
“Moments like that is what you live for as a baseball player, you know?” Oliver said. “I mean, you’ve got to make it interesting sometimes. It was definitely a nailbiter, but you definitely have to stay focused there at the end and block everything out and have tunnel vision.”
After losing his location the previous three batters, it only took Oliver two pitches to strike out Blakita and begin the celebration with his teammates.
“He’s definitely a fastball hitter and I wanted to start him off with the breaking ball and then see what happens from there — see if he’s late, see if he’s early,” Oliver said. “Brady is definitely a barrel-finder today with that triple and everything.”
Oliver took the mound to open the top of the fifth inning when St. Mary’s held a 3-1 lead but quickly found himself in trouble as a single by Catholic Central’s Bennett Thompson and a walk drawn by Matt Ineich gave the Shamrocks runners on first and second with one out. Pydyn then had a hard-hit ground ball ricochet high into the air off third base and scored Thompson to make it 3-2.
After Oliver collected the second out with a strikeout, he walked the bases loaded. Like he did in the seventh inning, Oliver closed the top of the fifth inning with a bases-loaded strikeout looking.
“It’s definitely the job of a closer. You’ve got to handle moments like that,” Oliver said. “Stay composed, control your breathing and stuff like that. It was definitely fun battling with these brothers.”
St. Mary’s coach Matt Petry never lost faith in Oliver despite the tense circumstances. Even if Oliver put himself in a jam, Petry knew his captain could find a way out.
“Jasen didn’t have his best command today and kind of got himself into a little bit of trouble, but he’s the guy that we want out there when the game’s on the line. We don’t have a ton of experience on this team but he’s our most experienced guy… It’s Jasen’s game to win or lose there.”
With the exception of the 2020 season that was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s has won the Catholic League tournament each year since it started the streak in 2019.
Each one of St. Mary’s CHSL title game victories have been by one run during the streak.
“That’s what makes it special,” Petry said. “You’re playing the best competition in the state in my opinion.”
St. Mary’s scored all its runs in the bottom of the third inning. The first three batters for St. Mary’s were walked, hit by a pitch and walked, respectively, to open the inning.
After a strikeout and the bases still loaded for the Eaglets, Oliver came to the plate and was walked, earning an RBI in the process to open the scoring. St. Mary’s increased it’s lead one batter later as Will Boisineau reached on a fielder’s choice. The throw to first was mishandled, allowing Charlie Hardenburgh and Parker Brzustewicz to hustle home to make it 3-0.
St. Mary’s ended the inning on a sour note as Boisineau was caught stealing second. St. Mary’s ended the bottom of the fourth inning the same way as Aidan Donovan was caught stealing after he hit a single.
St. Mary’s also failed to score with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second as Catholic Central pulled off a rare 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.
Aside from its multiple chances with bases loaded, Catholic Central missed out on a chance to get on the scoreboard first. In the top of the first inning, Blakita was robbed of a potential multi-base and multi-run hit when St. Mary’s first baseman Blake Grimmer snatched a screaming line-drive to end the inning unscathed.
Aside from Blakita’s hard-hit triple in the fourth inning, neither team could muster up any deeply hit balls as the wind was howling straight in from center field all game.
“We knew that runs were going to be at a premium today with the wind howling in at 25 miles per hour,” Petry said. “We knew we were going to have to manufacture walks, bunts, hit-and-runs (and) things like that.”
St. Mary’s pitcher Aidan Donovan got the win as he struck out four and gave up three hits and one run on a pass ball that allowed Blakita to score after his triple.
Oliver earned the save with eight strikeouts in three full innings, giving up four hits, three walks and one run. Oliver also struck out the side in the sixth inning.
In total, Catholic Central batters had eight strikeouts looking, seven of which came with Oliver on the mound.
“How many looking strike threes did we have?” said Catholic Central coach Ryan Rogowski. “From the fifth inning on, we probably had about six… Mr. Oliver is outstanding. He is what he is. We want to compete but we have to swing the bat. That’s what we have to do.”
Although Oliver had one of the RBIs for St. Mary’s he finished the night 0-for-0 in three plate appearances, drawing walks each time.
“It’s not the first time that’s happened,” Oliver insisted.
Having already walked across the stage for graduation, Oliver is hoping this not the only title he will celebrate this season as the Eaglets aim to win a fourth-consecutive state championship and second-straight at the Division 1 level.
“It feels great and we have to keep it going,” Oliver said. “It’s my last year and we’ve graduated, so I want to lay everything out on the field. I definitely wanted to win the Catholic League championship one more time, so it feels good.”