After the final out was made in Piedmont’s loss to Ardmore on Friday, pitcher Brayden Nelson had one request for head coach Kory Williams.
He wanted the ball Saturday in a winner-take-all regional final vs. Ardmore.
A day after throwing 82 pitches in a five-inning outing against Woodward, Nelson, a senior, got what he asked for and dominated Ardmore in Piedmont’s 7-0 victory that clinched a berth in next week’s Class 5A state tournament.
“It was a gutsy performance,” Williams said. “He wanted the ball and that’s how he’s been his whole career here. I’m super proud of him.”
Nelson needed only 74 pitches to finish a complete game masterpiece as he led Piedmont (26-12) back to state for the first time since 2013. Nelson struck out six without a walk, gave up two hits and never allowed an Ardmore runner to advance past first base.
“I was really dialed in because I knew my team needed me. I came in with one thing on my mind,” Nelson said. “I just took it one pitch at a time like coach Williams always tells us to do.”
Since April 2, Nelson has allowed just two earned runs in 37 2/3 innings with 50 strikeouts.
“In the first inning there were a lot of nerves,” he said. “But by the second and third innings I really started to settle in.”
The Tigers (22-17) were their own worst enemy. A pair of first-inning errors behind starting pitcher Bodee Coffman led to a two-out, two-RBI double from Piedmont cleanup hitter Noah Ellis that gave the Wildcats a 2-0 lead.
A walk and another error an inning later opened the door for a two-RBI double from Hunter Chism to put Piedmont in front 4-0.
“Bodee pitched well and we got ourselves in a whole early by not making simple plays,” Ardmore head coach Paul Elkouri said. “That’s the bottom line. We’ve struggled defensively at times throughout the year, but this was a bad day for it to happen.”
Piedmont shortstop Gabe Griffith delivered the final blow with a two-RBI double to the opposite field in the fifth inning after Ardmore reliever Dalen Hall hit two batters and moved both into scoring position with a wild pitch.
“I noticed that their center fielder was shifted over to the left,” Griffith, who finished 3 for 4 with two RBI’s, said. “I planned on putting it to the right side and it happened.”
“That was a big two runs right there,” Williams added.
Ardmore rallied to beat Piedmont Friday, but could find no such late-inning magic against Nelson on Saturday.
“Their kid just kept pounding the zone and stayed after us. He had really good stuff today,” Elkouri said. “But I’m proud of (my team). They had a good season.”
Piedmont will open play in the state tournament Thursday at Yukon High School with a start time and opponent to be determined. It’s Piedmont’s third trip to state in school history and second in the last six seasons.
“Going back to the state tournament never gets old,” a just-doused-in-Gatorade Williams said. “It’s something we’re trying to get going here. It means a lot to get back.”
Nelson is certain to get the ball Thursday.
“This means the world to us, but now we have to go win three more,” he said.