Looking like No. 1: Top-ranked Hanover, Matthys shut out Norwell; advance to 3A title game
La PORTE -- Back during winter workouts, coach Ryan Bridges and the rest of his Hanover Central baseball staff told their players they could have a special season.
"We had some meetings, they initially said, regional finals," Bridges said. "I said, we're better than that. We knew what we had. Not a lot of people did. Not a lot of people knew anybody due to COVID."
Even with the state's No. 1 ranking in Class 3A for the better part of the season, Wildcats ace Bret Matthys admitted it took him a while to fully buy in to that profession of faith.
"The coaches said at the beginning of the year, you guys are state contenders," Matthys said. "Talking to the guys on the bus, I didn't know if we would be in this position. I don't know when it was that we knew we were going to be a state team. Maybe midway through, the McCutcheon game, Lake Central, we started thinking we can really do this."
Saturday at Schreiber Field, it all became a reality for Hanover, which rode Matthys' left arm to a 7-0 win over Norwell and a trip to the 3A title game June 22.
"Right now, I don't even know what to think. I'm at a loss for words," Matthys said. "We grind. All the hard work we put in during the winter. We just love to play with each other. Being tight as a group, I think, is what made us on top. I've been playing with these guys since I was 10. It means a lot to me."
Hanover (29-3-1) scored twice in the second inning as Zach Zychowski tripled in a run and scored on a fly out to right. It would prove to be all Matthys needed as he scattered seven hits, struck out 13 and walked none.
"Any time Bret's on the mound, if we can score four, I like our chances," Bridges said. "Since mid-April, I tried to tell kids to embrace (the ranking). It's fun to get everybody's best shot. We're not going to hide from it. We have one D-I kid (Jared Comia) and the rest, they're very good ball players. I'm extremely proud of them to have that mentality from the get go. We're playing for a state title. That was the goal at the beginning of the year. They've gone out and they showed it."
Matthys gave up hits to two of the first three Norwell batters, but picked off the first and the other was caught stealing. The Knights didn't attempt another one.
"That was our game plan going in. One through nine, those guys can book it," said Matthys, who employed his slide step move more. "When they get a hit, they better be ready at first because I'm going to throw over. I'm going to try to get you out. I have multiple ways of getting people out."
Though Bridges joked about how Matthys 'wants to pick everyone off,' there's no disputing his impact on halting a running game.
"We had to talk to him about not showing his best move all the time," Bridges said. "He wants to pick everyone off. We tell him, you've got to show something else. It's a luxury. It takes a lot of pressure off the catcher when you have a guy like that to hold runners. He saves pitches, too."
Norwell put runners on the corners with two outs in the fourth and had two more aboard with two outs in the fifth, but Matthys ended both threats with whiffs.
"I was ready since we won regionals," he said. "I knew I was going to get the ball. Coach (Sal) Aguilar calling pitches, I probably shook him off four times. Coach Aguilar, coach Bridges, coach (Nic) Sampognaro, they have confidence in me. (Norwell's) first four hitters, they're really solid, they made me work. That outing was probably one of the best I've had in my career -- the moment, the stage, the command -- and I needed it to be. I actually got better throughout the game. The sixth, seventh inning, they couldn't see my curveball. My changeup, I was painting inside, too."
Even with the 13 Ks, Matthys was happiest about the zero walks.
"He's a competitor," Bridges said. "He doesn't have the flashy 90 miles per hour, but he can mix his pitches, he can throw three pitches for strikes. He's going to give up some hits, but he's going to minimize the damage. That's a huge help to our offense. Bret's the most underrated player around here. I really believe that. He's probably one of the most talented, too, if that makes any sense. He's the ace of our staff and he's probably our best hitter right now. That's not a knock against Jared. That's just how good Bret's been."
Matthys helped his pitching cause in the fifth with a deep drive that handcuffed a retreating Luke Graft in center field, doubling Hanover's lead.
"He kept us off balance the first four innings, but we worked him up to his pitch count," Matthys said of Norwell's Brett Wathen. "That's what we do. We take pride in our at-bats. We chip away."
Hanover broke the game wide open with three runs in the seventh, highlighted by Comia's steal of home.
"That was called," Bridges said. "As soon as he comes set, the runner breaks and the runner at first mirrors him. It's a roll of the dice. Up four, two outs, why not? Make these kids make plays. We're not going to stop. It worked out. It was a big insurance run. The flood gates kind of opened."
Adam Graham doubled in a run and scored on Cade Walker's single to cap the scoring.
"We struggled for a little bit, but we were eventually going to come around," Bridges said. "We manufactured a run here and there with small ball, then we started to hit the ball later. We don't swing at balls. We really command the strike zone. We try to preach to the kids, don't help him out. That's been big for us."
Hanover will plays Southridge (25-7) in the 3A final at 4 p.m. on June 22 in Indianapolis.
"We had a little chip on our shoulder, not having last year," Matthys said. "The coaches believe in us. We believe in each other. We're going to Victory Field, baby."
Hanover Central celebrates its 7-0 win over Norwell in the Class 3A semistate Saturday at La Porte's Schreiber Field. (Photo by Kyle Keith)