Inning after inning, Bellwood-Antis pitcher Chad Luensmann overpowered Bald Eagle Area.
The No. 14 seed Eagles couldn’t catch up to Luensmann’s fastball and couldn’t figure out his breaking ball as he piled up 14 strikeouts in a one-hitter to lead the third-seeded Blue Devils to a 5-0 win in the first round of the District 6 Class AA playoffs Thursday.
Luensmann, a senior who is headed to Nebraska, struck out nine different Eagles’ hitters and allowed just three runners to reach base.
“I think he’s as good as advertised or maybe better,” BEA coach Jim Gardner said. “I believe that when he mixes pitches he was even better because it set up his fastball more. It made it faster. He had a good changeup and a curveball.
“When you’re geared up for a fastball that fast, a changeup and a curveball are so much more effective.”
Trey Butterworth recorded the lone hit for Bald Eagle Area (7-13) with a single in the second inning. Eagles left-hander Colton Comly pitched a complete game in the loss, allowing all five runs in the first two innings.
Bellwood-Antis will take on sixth-seeded Bedford in the quarterfinals Monday. Bedford beat Juniata 13-3 in six innings Thursday.
The Blue Devils (18-4) took control against BEA with a three-run first inning, highlighted by Jordan McCracken’s two-run single. They pushed the lead to 5-0 in the second inning when two runs scored after an error on Zach Mock’s single to right field.
That proved to be more than enough run support for Luensmann.
“With him on the mound, you know 1-0 generally does it,” Bellwood-Antis coach Steve Conlon said. “So as soon as we scored a run, you can feel the kids, the excitement kind of gathers because we’re like hey, there’s no way they’re gonna score.”
After Luensmann recorded two strikeouts and hit a batter in the first inning, Butterworth led off the second with a single past the diving attempt of Bellwood-Antis second baseman Noah Burns.
Luensmann then struck out the side.
He fired a fastball past a swinging Comly for the first strikeout. He then froze Noah Chambers with a breaking ball, a pitch he considers a slider. And he struck out Alex Struble on three pitches to end the inning.
Luensmann recorded at least one strikeout in every inning. He struck out five different Bald Eagle Area hitters twice.
It was a typical performance for Luensmann.
“This year he’s gone from good to dominating,” Conlon said. “He just really has dominated high school teams this year.”
Luensmann struck out seven in the first three innings and ran his total to 11 after striking out the side in the fifth.
“In the first few innings, I knew I could rely on my fastball,” Luensmann said. “And then I knew I was just going to come out and do what I do.”
The Eagles also only managed to hit three balls past the infield – Butterworth’s single and back-to-back easy flyouts to end the game. Two of the Eagles’ three baserunners were hit by a pitch.
“What we wanted to do was put the ball in play and test their defense,” Gardner said. “We just weren’t able to do it with enough authority off of that strong arm in order to test it.”
Luensmann is headed to Nebraska, but he’s also grabbed the attention of major league teams. The pitcher spoke with a New York Mets scout who watched his dominant playoff effort Thursday.
He acknowledged he’d consider starting his professional career if he’s selected in this year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
“It’ll be a tough decision,” Luensmann said. “We’ll just see how things keep going down the next couple weeks.”
For Bald Eagle Area, Thursday marked the end of a tough season.
“It’s kind of a puzzle because really individually they had good years but as a team we had a losing record,” Gardner said. “It’s kind of hard to figure, just like our whole season has been.”