MEDFORD – It was a case of Shawnee High School’s Jackson Balzan having command over all three of his pitches.
When that happens it’s never good news for the opposing team.
A senior left-hander, Balzan threw a crafty blend of fastballs, curves and changeups, keeping Highland High School batters continually off-balance.
He ultimately completed a two-hitter to give Shawnee a 3-2 win over the Tartans Tuesday in a opening-round game of the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic.
“Everything,” Balzan answered what pitches were working for him.
“I spiked the curveball a couple of times,” he said. “That was a little off, but my changeup and fastball were really good.”
Balzan stepped it up at a good time for the Renegades who were struggling a bit with a two-game losing streak. He said he was nervous when taking the mound.
“But after the first inning, I got into it,” Balzan said. “I got in the flow. I knew I needed to be sharp.”
He wasn’t necessarily dominating throughout his outing, posting just four strikeouts through the first six innings.
However, two of those strikeouts came back to back to end the first inning after Highland had a runner on third base with one out.
Balzan then finished strong when he struck out the side in the seventh inning to preserve the narrow win. He ended up giving up three walks.
Later, Balzan said his performance was the result of his mental effort as much as his physical one.
“Confidence was the main thing for me,” he said. “. . . just going out there knowing I could get any one of these guys out
According to coach Brian Anderson, Balzan has been able to transform himself into an effective starter over the course of time.
Last season, the coach said, Balzan was a spot-starter, but he showed a lot of promise in some games.
“We knew he had the ability to be an awesome starter, but last year that was not the role he was needed for,” Anderson said. “This year we made him a starter and he’s 5-0. He has that ability to take over a game.
“He’s just a really smart pitcher. He changes speeds and the guys like playing behind him when he throws strikes as he does.”
Balzan’s effort wasn’t lost on his teammates, who pushed across what proved to be the winning run with a pair of tallies in the fourth inning.
“He’s been lights out all year,” said, Joe Dalsey, who drove in the first run in the fourth inning with an RBI single. “It helps, him being a great pitcher. He gets us out of innings and gives us a chance on the offensive end.”
Moments after driving in his run, Daley scored what proved to be the game-winning run when he scored on a double by Nate Liedtka.
The outburst gave Shawnee a 3-1 lead at the time. Highland closed the deficit when Matt Schaeffer delivered an RBI single in the sixth.
But Balzan then got out of the inning with a double-play ground ball and he sailed through the seventh inning.
“I’ve known (Balzan) a long time and I knew he was going to come out and compete today,” said Highland coach D.J. Gore. “He competed. He was able to throw three pitches for strikes and that the difference.”
In the end, Balzan won out over two Highland pitchers, starter Mark Cotton and reliever Joey Rappaport, who retired all six of the batters he faced.
Cotton kept his team in the game early when he yielded only one run after loading the bases with no outs.
The run scored on a sacrifice fly by Cole Fleming, and it stood up until the top of the fourth inning when Cotton helped himself with a sacrifice fly.
However, Cotton got into trouble in the bottom of the fourth when Conner Coolahan led off with a single, stole second base and scored on Daley’s single.
Liedtka followed with his RBI double.
Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic
Highland 000 101 0-2 2
Shawnee 100 200x-3 6
WP: Jackson Balzan: LP: Mark Cotton
2B: Nate Liedtka, S.