RENO — Erich Uelmen knew he needed to find a way out of second-inning jam.
So the senior did it with his slider.
Churchill County had loaded the bases with no outs, but Uelmen struck out the next three batters, all on breaking balls, and Faith Lutheran went on to beat the Greenwave 9-2 on Saturday for the Division I-A state baseball title at Peccole Park.
“I just knew I had to get through that, because if they would have got anything, they would have the momentum,” Uelmen said. “And by getting out of it, we took the momentum on our side and it basically took them out of the game.”
The Crusaders (30-6) led 2-1 at the time, but Uelmen gave up a leadoff double to Riley Williams to start the second. He then struck out Trae Workman on a breaking ball in the dirt. But catcher Greg Sylvester’s throw to first to complete the out short-hopped the first baseman, putting two on with no outs. Uelmen then hit Jack Swisher with a pitch to load the bases for the top of the order.
But Uelmen, who has signed with Cal Poly, found his way out of the jam to preserve the lead.
“I think that was huge,” Faith Lutheran coach Blair Neagle said. “He established his breaking ball there, and it kind of gave us a lift. It took us a while to get going, so he was kind of the catalyst.”
Churchill County (24-10-1) had no answer for Uelmen’s slider all day. The senior right-hander finished with 12 strikeouts, 10 on breaking balls.
He allowed one earned run on three hits and walked one.
“He’s got a good fastball, so they’ve got to be ready for that,” Neagle said. “But he throws that breaking pitch from the same arm slot, so it’s tough. He’s pretty nasty, and he gets a lot of movement.”
Uelmen helped his own cause, leading off the fourth with a double and scoring on an error to make it 3-1.
After the Greenwave scored a run in the fifth on Tyler Bagby’s RBI double to cut the lead to 3-2, Uelmen again helped his own cause with an RBI single in the bottom of the inning. The Crusaders added RBI singles from Justin Daraban and Bobby Frank, and Sylvester drove in a run with a safety squeeze to make it 7-2 after five innings.
That was more than enough for Uelmen, who got a strikeout and an game-ending double play in the seventh. Uelmen struck out at least one batter in every inning.
Uelmen is one of three college-bound pitchers for the Crusaders, joining Brandon Johnson (Kansas) and Jordan Dreibelbis (Dixie State) in helping the team to a second consecutive title.
“He got tired at the end, but he’s just got such a heart and he’s such a competitor,” Neagle said. “There’s nobody we’d rather have. It’s a three-headed monster, and they support each other. He just did a great job swinging the bat and competing for us.”
Churchill County scored an unearned run after a pair of first-inning errors by Faith Lutheran.
But the Crusaders took the lead back in the bottom of the inning, and held the edge for the rest of the game.
Logan Etherington started the first-inning rally with a two-out single to right. Dakota Greenawalt then doubled off the right-field fence to tie the game. Cameron Sepede brought home Greenawalt with a triple to right-center field.
“I needed some backup after the first,” Uelmen said. “It seemed like we were a little tight, but then we loosened up and started getting hits.”
Sepede was 3-for-3 with two runs, and Uelmen went 2-for-3 with two runs to lead Faith Lutheran’s 10-hit attack.
Uelmen said capturing a second straight Division I-A title was especially sweet for the team’s nine seniors.
“It was awesome, because we had a senior-heavy team,” Uelmen said. “We were just really excited to have another shot at it, and we didn’t want to let it slip.
“We’re really proud to wear the Faith uniform. And it was a good way to end putting it on for the last time.”