GARDNER — They are set up right where they want to be. After a 4-3 win over Grant Park in the semifinal round of their own Class 1A baseball on Thursday, the Gardner-South Wilmington baseball team is in prime position to win.
Behind a complete-game pitching effort from Brandon Riggi against the Dragons and a two-run single by Mike Goodwin and Shane Harty in the sixth, the locals are headed into the championship game on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. — with their ace pitcher Harty on the mound.
"He's been a huge piece to our program the last four years. I brought both he and Brandon (Riggi) up as freshmen," GSW coach Jon Posing said. "I think it was about 10 games into the season that year. They have both been extremely important to the team. They are good kids and I am going to miss them."
Riggi went all seven innings against Grant Park allowing four hits and one walk while striking out 11. Two of the runs he allowed were earned.
As mentioned, both Riggi and Harty came up together four full seasons ago now. Both now look back at the wide-eyes they had coming into the program.
"We were both scared to play at the varsity level," Riggi said. "I just remember coach Posing telling me to go up and take three hard swings and to have fun playing the game."
Harty also liked the way Posing, and the whole team for that matter, handled their freshmen call-ups.
"We played a lot our freshman year and coach helped out a lot. For me it was take three good cuts at the plate, throw strikes in the strike zone and to play baseball to have fun and that's what I have been doing since," Harty said. "The seniors were really good that year. They were always picking us up when we'd get in the dugout. Having Brandon there helped, but so did the upper classmen that year."
While Riggi has certainly been solid this year, Harty has been the workhorse for the team. The highlight of the season to this point being the 22-strikeout performance by Harty against Donovan. A game in which the senior righty went all 10 innings.
"In the 10-inning, 22 strikeout game, I was more worried about his pitch count than anything. He kept saying he was fine," Posing said. "Then we scored three runs in the 10th to go up 4-1 and I asked Brandon if he was ready. They got their leadoff batter on second base in the 10th and I looked out to the mound, and then looked to Brandon in the bullpen, and then back to Shane and he just looked at me, waved and said 'don't bother'."
Harty said it was exciting to be involved in such a game.
"It was a good game. Their pitcher was throwing real good and the longer the game went on, the more I wanted it," Harty said. "I was wanting to get us over the hump until we started playing better. Then we started playing Panther baseball and I felt fine so I wanted to keep going."
Harty said that both he and Posing have gotten to know each other well over the last four seasons and that a mutual trust exists, as evidenced in the Donovan game.
"One time in the eighth inning I walked a kid on four pitches, but I knew what adjustments I needed to make. Coach left me in and we ended up coming back in the last inning. I've found that it's all about making little adjustments on the mound when you start to get tired," he said. "It's definitely a trust thing. I think he can recognize by now that I know how to make adjustments. He can ask me 'how do you feel, how do you feel, how do you feel?' all day but he also had to trust that I could do it. And I'm glad I did."
Posing said that Harty certainly has that Bulldog mentality, even though he had to ease into the role.
"He grown into that role as a player, but at first he wasn't. That's one of the reasons we wanted to bring him up as a freshman. It's also why I never take him out any more when he says he's fine," Posing said. "Over the year he's had to work through some things. He's had to take on some situations.
"There have been times over the years when the teams is giving away runs and the pitcher will be out there down by 10 runs, wondering if I am going to go out there and get them. That's about the time I'd look out there and just tell them to deal with it. It works to his advantage now because he did learn how to deal with it. There is no way I am going to take him out now after him going through that."
Despite the workload over the last couple of years, Posing thinks Harty would make a fine addition to a collegiate pitching staff next year.
"I think he has the pitches to do it. He's pretty good with each of his pitches that he could play at the next level," he said. "He's got three pitches — a fastball, a curveball and what I call a sinker that he calls a changeup. I believe he could pitch for somebody. I'm not saying DI, because that's for the rare kids, but he could go to a smaller school and pitch. Don't forget that he's also a pretty good catcher, too."
It's all part of maturing in the sport.
"Shane's matured a lot over the years. His pitching is better. He has more trust now in his pitches," Riggi concluded. "He also picks everyone up on the bench. He's turned into an all-around good player."