Published Date Written by Larry Etter
Sophomore right-hander Nathan Ocker set a school record with an amazing 24 strikeout performance in nine innings of Middletown’s 12-inning, 5-2 loss to Palmyra on Thursday, April 25 in Middletown.
Ocker kept a consistently sharp fastball down in the strike zone that completely dominated Palmyra’s hitters throughout the Keystone Division scrap. He issued zero walks and yielded just two hits, a pair of singles, before leaving the mound after reaching his allowed number of innings after nine.
The only negative to the performance was that Ocker left the game with the score tied at 1-1 and the Cougars eventually scored 3 runs in the top of the 12th inning to earn the victory. Those deciding runs came against reliever Nick Drawbaugh, who had pitched well in his three innings of work. The Blue Raiders had numerous chances to pull out a much-needed victory for Ocker or Drawbaugh but simply could not come up with a key hit to produce a win.
In the season’s first half, the Raiders and Cougars had combined for 21 runs in an exciting 11-10 victory for the Middletown squad. This second meeting was nothing like that one.
Palmyra scored a run in the top of the first inning and Middletown matched that with a run in the bottom of the second. The 1-1 deadlock remained unchanged until Palmyra broke the tie in the bottom of the 11th inning.
Facing the one-run deficit in the home half of the 11th, the Raiders produced another tying run to send the game into the 12th. Palmyra then came up with a 3-run rally in the top of the 12th to steal the win.
Ocker actually had four strikeouts in the first inning, but a ball in the dirt on the third whiff allowed Trey Baker to reach first. Baker stole second and scored on a single by teammate Mitchell Sauley to give the Cougars the early 1-0 lead.
Two more strikeouts by Ocker in the top of the second kept the score unchanged.
In the bottom of the second, Ocker and Jordan Flowers drew one-out walks and Dylan Bower was hit by a pitch with two outs to load the bases. A wild pitch by Bobby Dorta with Eddie Finsterbush at the plate allowed Ocker to score the tying run.
With eight strikeouts already in the book, Ocker added eight more over the next four innings to run his total to 16.
But the Raiders also came up empty during the span and the score remained deadlocked at 1-1.
In the bottom of the sixth, Middletown’s Brett Altland walked and Cody Fox singled, but both runners were stranded. Bower was also left on base in the home half of the seventh inning after reaching first on an infield single with two outs.
Ocker’s 19th, 20th and 21st strikeouts came in the top of the eighth as he struck out the side.
Kyle Finsterbush led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a single, but he, too, was left stranded.
Ocker finished up his historic performance with three more strikeouts in the top of the ninth, and the Raiders went down in order in the bottom of the frame.
Drawbaugh took over on the mound for the Middletown defense in the top of the 10th and got two quick outs before Palmyra’s Griffin Mitchell reached base on a bunt single. But the Cougar runner was thrown out on catcher Fox’s peg to Kyle Finsterbush at second.
Kyle Finsterbush was safe on an error with two outs in the bottom of the 10th but also was left stranded.
The Cougars broke the tie in the top of the 11th on an RBI single by Baker.
Needing to break their scoreless drought to keep the game going, the Raiders came up with a tying run in the bottom of the frame. Fox led off with an infield single, stole second and went to third on a balk by Palmyra pitcher Baker, who had taken over for Dorta in the seventh inning. Ocker’s sacrifice fly to right field produced the run.