CINCINNATI -- The stage had never been bigger for St. Xavier right-handed ace Nathan Kappers.
But Thursday evening’s Division I baseball regional semifinal at the University of Cincinnati’s Marge Schott Stadium was just another game to Kappers, a junior, as he went about business as usual to lead St. Xavier (22-3) to a 4-1 win over Fairfield (22-7) in a complete-game masterpiece.
“It was just a normal day and that’s how I think about it,” Kappers said. “I never think about the stage. I just go out and try to pitch my game. That’s what my coaches tell me. Just treat it like it’s any other game. If I do that and my teammates help, we’ll always have a great chance to win.”
PHOTOS: St. Xavier beats Fairfield 4-1
St. Xavier will meet Lakota West (24-5) Friday evening at 5 p.m. at Marge Schott Stadium with a chance to win the program’s first regional title since 2003 when the Bombers won the state championship.
Despite the high stakes, Kappers (8-1) stole the show in scattering seven hits with a walk, two strike outs and only an unearned run in seven innings.
“He had everything going on and he looked the way he has all season,” St. Xavier senior catcher Nick Meyer said.
Kappers left Fairfield runners on second base in the second, fifth and sixth innings and he stranded an Indians runner at third base to end the fourth.
“He’s very cool and calm under pressure and I thought he did a great job of making quality pitches today when he needed them,” St. Xavier coach Bob Sherlock said.
Fairfield’s only run came with two outs in the bottom of the fourth when Indians senior catcher Brock Mathis scored from second after a throwing error by Bombers’ senior third baseman Matthew Seltzer on a slow-roller up the third-base line. Kappers squashed that threat by inducing a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
“Nathan pitched his typical game,” Sherlock said. “He pounds the strike zone. He really is outstanding in high-pressure situations and big stages like this one against a quality opponent. It kind of plays right into his strength.
“That’s kind of what we’ve come to expect from Nathan.”
Kappers had a three-run lead to work with before he even took the mound Thursday. Senior right-fielder Jonathan Brus ripped the first pitch he saw into the right-field corner for a two-out RBI-double to get the Bombers on the board in the top of the first. Senior designated hitter Alex Markley followed with a two-run single through the middle for an early 3-0 lead. Fairfield senior right-hander Kurt Lange had hit Bombers senior shortstop Trevor Kuncl after retiring the first two hitters of the game and then walked senior first baseman Sam Klare to set up Brus’s and Markley’s big hits.
“It doesn’t change the way I pitch, but it’s a great confidence boost knowing you have a little cushion,” Kappers said. “If you give up a run, it’s not the end of the world, especially seeing the bats get that hot early in the game. Seeing that my teammates can produce throughout the game gives me great confidence and the game starts on a great note with that.”
Meyer’s two-out RBI single plated Markley in the third for a 4-0 lead and that was more than enough for Kappers to send the Bombers to their first regional final since 2007 when the Bombers lost to eventual state champion Lakota West. Thursday’s game was St. Xavier’s first appearance at the regional tournament since 2008.
“I don’t think they are really too worried about where they’re at,” Sherlock said. “They just kind of go out and play and we just try to stay out of their way and let them do their thing. They’re very good at that. They’re very intelligent. They’ve got a high baseball IQ and they’re very good at making adjustments. They really are not fazed by where they’re at.”
They’re not only not fazed, they fully expected to reach this point.
“We’ve had our eyes set on it and we just try to take it one game at a time,” Kappers said. “If we go with that mentality and we come out and give our best to the opponent we’re playing, that gives us the best shot to win and keep advancing.”
The family-like atmosphere of the team is another key, according to Meyer.
“We joke around, but we know when to get serious,” Meyer said. “But we always love each other and we always have each other’s backs.”
Greater Miami Conference champions Lakota West will be the next test for the Bombers.
“You win the GMC, you’re really good,” Sherlock said. “They’re going to be every bit as good as what Fairfield was today, if not better. We know we’re going to have our hands full and we’re going to have to play near perfect baseball to beat them. But we look forward to the opportunity to play them.”