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Nova Falls 4-1 To Lincoln In 8A State Semifinal

Nova ace Trace Moore delivered a quality start but suffered a tough loss on Friday.

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Hanging up in the Lincoln team clubhouse is an empty picture frame that is reserved for an image of the first state championship team in program history. Thanks to another outstanding performance from senior ace Austin Pollack, that frame may not remain empty for much longer.

With Pollack on the mound, the Lincoln Trojans have been a tough team to beat during the 2017 playoffs. The left-hander has not surrendered a run since early April, while delivering four straight complete-game shutouts to lead his club into Friday’s 8A state semifinal at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. That scoreless streak continued, along with the Trojans’ season, as Pollack pitched his club to a 4-1 victory over the Nova Titans to advance to Saturday’s state championship.

“We just ran into a hot pitcher, and that could have been his fifth shutout in-a-row,” Nova manager Pat McQuaid said. “He was efficient with his pitches. Our game plan was to try and get him out of there in the fifth or sixth inning with the pitch count, and we weren’t quite able to do that. In high school baseball you always have a chance, and I didn’t think the game was ever over by any chance. I thought our kids played hard, and it was just exciting to be here and to see the kids compete on this stage.”

Pollack mixed his speeds and his looks to give the Titans’ offense everything it could handle. The southpaw allowed just two hits and two walks while nearly going the distance, before the pitch-limit restrictions forced him from the contest with one out remaining in the bottom of the seventh. He did not allow any runs and piled up nine strikeouts.

“When you get to this point in the game, everyone is going to have a D-1 pitcher,” McQuaid said. “You hope to get to the championship game, where you can see somebody’s #2 pitcher and it is just a regular high school baseball game.”

Titans right fielder Gabriel Paulson comes up throwing after hauling in a line drive out.

Lincoln (25-6) broke open a scoreless game with all the offense Pollack needed in support with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth. Also facing off against a tough lefty in Nova ace Trace Moore, the Trojans found some success in the early innings, before finally stringing some hits together in the fourth.

First baseman Dylan Barrett delivered an excellent day at the plate, and he got things started with a one-out single to left field. Hank Evans followed by drilling a shot deep into the left field corner for an RBI triple, and Jordan Ulee dropped down a squeeze bunt and reached with an RBI single when the Nova defense was left with no play.

“When that guy is pitching like that and you are able to put a couple of runs on the board with your guy throwing really well, it definitely eases the nerves a little bit and gives you hope that you can hold on,” Lincoln manager Mike Gauger said. “Moore did a phenomenal job of keeping us off-balance, and he really hit his spots. So any runs against that guy and you are excited.”

Although Lincoln found holes on the field and connected for 11 hits overall, it struggled to come up with another big hit to add some more insurance for its ace. Pollack continued to hit his spots, and mixed his breaking pitches in more as the game wore on. The Titans managed just two hits off him, and they had difficulties moving runners into scoring position.

“He was good at painting his corners and he could command the strike zone, and his curveball had pretty good break on it,” Gabe Paulson said.

Lincoln added two valuable insurance runs in the top of the seventh, after Moore left the mound due to the pitch limit. Pollack was hit by a pitch and then replaced on the bases by courtesy-runner Tahj Cunningham. Connor Burke dropped a sacrifice bunt that advanced the runner, Myles McCord singled to left and Barrett connected for his third hit of the day with a double down the left field line that drove in both base runners to extend it to a 4-0 lead.

The Titans and their fans cheer during a seventh-inning rally that fell short.

When Pollack reached his pitch limit with two outs in the final frame, Nova made one final rally bid to get on the board and threaten to change the outcome. Daniel Hubert worked a walk, Jordan Campbell singled to left and Moore then reached on an error that allowed Hubert to score to end the shutout.

Reliever Nick Standriff recorded a called third strike to tally the final out and seal the big victory for his team. While the Trojans celebrated, the Titans were left to reflect upon what was and appreciate the great season they put together to get to this point.

“As a coach, I’m not a better coach today whether we won or lost,” McQuaid said. “But what you like to do is sit in the dugout and see the kids succeed. That is why you coach, to see them to practice hard and learn the game and then see them come up with the big base hit or strikeout to win the game. That is why you coach, and when the kids are ready, they will win.”

With seven underclassmen starters returning to the team next year, Nova has an excellent chance to make another run after its third state title. Coach McQuaid maintained early on in the season that the group was working towards making a run next year, but then the kids proved that anything can happen by making that a reality this season instead.

While that future is still unknown, what was accomplished was not lost upon the faithful Nova fan base. After defeating rival St. Thomas Aquinas in extra innings in what McQuaid described as the greatest high school baseball game ever played, the Titans returned to the state tournament for the first time in a dozen years. A group of players that worked so hard to earned it was given one final salute from the fans that also made the trip to Fort Myers on Friday, as they stood, cheered and applauded the team one last time as the Titans left the field following the game.

“It was real nice of them to do that for us. It really meant a lot,” Moore said.

Nova manager Pat McQuaid talks about the state semifinal battle with Lincoln.

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Lincoln manager Mike Gauger speaks about the Trojans' big semifinal win over Nova.

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