STANTON- Nazareth was better in every phase of the game which was the difference in getting a Memorial Day sweep of May in the Region I-1A championship series in front of a standing room only crowd at Buffalo Field on Monday.
The Swifts exploded offensively in Game 1 by dismantling May 15-0 in a quick run-rule victory. In Game 2, the Swifts were seemingly in control despite a late seventh-inning rally from the Tigers, but Nazareth was able to close the contest out with a 6-5 win and complete the sweep.
Nazareth (18-4) keeps its firm grip on Region I by punching a third straight ticket to the UIL Class 1A state tournament in Round Rock.
“We have a great situation,” said Nazareth head coach Tyler Goodwin, who will take the Swifts back to state for a second time in only his second season as head coach. “We have guys that love the game and love being a part of something bigger than themselves. At Nazareth you see it in the generations. Success breeds success. These are memories that will last forever and it’s fun to be a part of.”
Pitcher and shortstop Carson Heiman is part of a loaded senior class of seven players that have now been to Dell Diamond two previous times only to fall short of a state championship. Heiman said the experience of getting back as a senior is great, but it’s time to finish the story.
“We’ve been there twice, and we didn’t win it all,” Heiman said. “I think we’ve all played with a chip on our shoulder about finishing what we started. We’re all excited to get back to Round Rock, but we want to go win it all.”
Nazareth jumped all over May (10-5) in Game 1 from the bottom of the first inning and never looked back. Senior first baseman and slugger Sterl Welps set the tone hitting a three-run inside-the-park homer to put the Swifts up 3-0 after one. Welps was far from done. Welps went on to hit for the cycle in the opening game with a single, double and triple finishing the game with three RBIs.
“I wanted to jump on the pitching early,” Welps said. “I felt like we were all able to do that. I finally realized I’d hit for the cycle when my first base coach (Trae Hannon) was screaming at me to go get a triple on my last time at the plate.”
While Welps was doing damage at the plate, Heiman was dealing on the mound. Heiman handcuffed the Tigers in the first game holding May to one hit through the five-innings with three strikeouts. Thanks to only throwing 60 pitches, Heiman was called upon once again in Game 2 to come shut the door.
In a much different feel, Nazareth had gained a 6-1 lead off very costly fielding errors by May. As the game went on, starting pitcher Tanner Birkenfeld had gutted out five innings allowing only one run despite multiple men on base inning after inning. Goodwin turned to Welps in the sixth, however, Welps didn’t have his best stuff so Goodwin went back to Heiman in the top of the seventh to close the game. Heiman got May to hit into a bases loaded double play that did score a run cutting the lead 6-2, but Nazareth had two outs. Heiman then had more trouble as the Tigers scratched across three more runs making for nervous moments before a pop out ended the game to third baseman Braden Bullard.
“It wasn’t easy to come in during that situation,” Heiman said. “It was really hot on that turf but I knew I could be called back in if they needed me. I think I just kept a calm mind and stayed under control. But the defense was the difference. They carried us.”
The Nazareth defense was stellar on Monday. The Swifts had one error in 12 total innings, made big catches in the outfield and turned three double plays.
“To me the defense has gotten us to where we are at,” Goodwin said. “Watching us turn three double plays was huge. I’ve been joking with these guys in practice that we’re slow at turning double plays, but the guys have stepped up because we’ve had five or six in the last few weeks.”
The Class 1A state semifinals are set for Wednesday, June 7, at Dell Diamond in Round Rock.