ROSS TWP. — Keegan Nickoson figured he was just finishing what Paul Schroeder started.
Ross High School’s baseball team is still unbeaten thanks in large part to that senior battery, with Schroeder throwing a seven-hitter and Nickoson providing a walkoff single Monday.
Nickoson’s shot into left field with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the seventh inning lifted the Rams to a 2-1 victory over visiting Little Miami and left Ross alone on top of the Southwest Ohio Conference standings.
“All credit for that game goes to Schroeder,” Nickoson said. “His curveball was working great, and from my perspective behind the plate, he didn’t lose any velocity through all seven innings. It’s huge when you can spot that fastball up, down, in and out. He’s really one of the most underrated pitchers in all of Cincinnati in my opinion. He should be getting way more looks than he is.”
Schroeder collected six strikeouts and two walks while hitting three batters. He gave up a run in the second inning on Connor Thompson’s squeeze bunt, but the right-hander was mostly a master of weaving in and out of trouble.
“I was just trying to hit my spots and keep us in the game,” Schroeder said. “I tried to throw my curveball as much as possible because I knew they couldn’t hit it. That was the pitch today. I felt strong all the way through. I don’t really get nervous at all … I was just battling.”
Nickoson drove in both runs for Ross. Ethan Hall contributed two doubles and Ethan Mills added a pair of singles as the Rams improved to 13-0 overall and 9-0 in the SWOC.
The Panthers fell to 13-4, 8-1, and will host Ross on Tuesday at 5 p.m. First-year coach Ben Toerner said Trevor House will get the mound start for the Rams — Little Miami coach Matt Craig said he was undecided about his starting pitcher.
“Winning the first one in this two-game series is huge,” Toerner said. “We had a little bit of luck today. We just had to break through. It took longer than I would’ve liked, but I feel like it’s always going to come eventually.
“That’s a real good baseball team over there. It’s fun, though. These are the games we want to play in. These guys keep a calm confidence going on the whole time. You don’t win games like that if you flinch.”
Panthers righty Ryan Horak also tossed a seven-hitter, struck out four and walked five in a solid performance of his own. He dodged a number of bullets as well — both teams stranded 10 runners.
Little Miami had a fourth-inning rally snuffed out in unusual fashion. Trey Pinter stumbled as he came around third base with two outs and was called out when the home-plate umpire ruled that he got touched by Craig.
“No, I didn’t touch him,” Craig said. “I was trying to tell him to go, go, go, and it must’ve looked like I touched his shirt or something. Stuff happens in close games, I guess. That wasn’t our only opportunity. We had many other opportunities to score.”
Pinter was the lone Panther with two hits against Schroeder, who threw 98 pitches and said if the game had gone to extra innings, he would’ve been back on the hill in the eighth.
“Honestly, he wasn’t going to let me drag him off the mound if we had to go into extras,” Toerner said. “I thought he looked good. Everything was working. He was the guy today.”
Cooper Shields walked to start the Ross seventh. Hall followed with a double and Ryan Merkle was intentionally walked to load the bases for Nickoson. He delivered on a 1-1 fastball from Horak.
“I walked up there looking for a fastball,” Nickoson said. “I know he’s got a good curve, but I knew he was going to bring me one. He was throwing a lot of sliders and a lot of fastballs all day, but I didn’t change my approach. I was hunting the fastball all day.
“I was confident, but I was definitely nervous. My stomach was going crazy a little bit. It was fun, gut-wrenching, nerve-wracking … all of the above. Just running back to my teammates and dogpiling over there, there’s no better feeling than that.”
Craig said he expects his team to come back strong Tuesday. Falling two games behind the Rams in the SWOC race is not something Little Miami wants to do.
“I’m a little disappointed, but this is the kind of game I expected. We just came out on the short end of it,” Craig said. “We’ve got another shot tomorrow.”
Little Miami 010-000-0—1-7-0
WP — Paul Schroeder (3-0); LP — Ryan Horak (5-1). Records: L 13-4, 8-1 SWOC; R 13-0, 9-0 SWOC
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