TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
For six innings, Shawnee’s Jackson Balzan was a crafty left-hander, throwing three pitches for strikes in a steady march through the Highland lineup.
“Awesome,” Shawnee coach Brian Anderson said of Balzan’s work in the final inning of the crisply played game on the Renegades’ field.
Joe Dalsey and Nate Liedtka delivered two-out RBI hits to snap a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fourth inning for Shawnee (14-3), the No. 6 seed which advanced to face third-seeded St. Augustine in the quarterfinals Saturday at 10 a.m. at Washington Township.
“This tournament is huge for us,” said Dalsey, who had an RBI single, a stolen base, and scored a run in the Renegades’ rally in the fourth inning.
Losing pitcher Mark Cotton drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and Matt Schaeffer cut the lead to 3-2 with an RBI single in the sixth for 11th-seeded Highland (12-5).
Cotton, who worked four innings, and Joe Rappaport, who pitched a perfect sixth and seventh, were solid on the mound for the Tartans.
“We’re never going to be a program that’s going to be OK with a loss,” Highland coach D.J. Gore said. “But we showed we can compete with the upper echelon of South Jersey, of the state.
Balzan, a senior who plans to continue his career at Salisbury (Md.) University, mixed a live fastball with a sharp curve and changeup. He allowed two unearned runs on two hits, an infield single and an opposite-field single. He walked three and struck out seven.
“He was hitting his spots,” Shawnee catcher Joey Moore said. “He’s done it all year. He’s always bringing his ‘A’ game.”
Balzan improved his record to 5-0. He has 42 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings, with 12 walks. His ERA is 0.85.
“He’s a pitcher,” Gore said of Balzan. “He’s tough as nails. You throw two pitches for strikes in high school baseball, you can be dominant. He was throwing three.”
Balzan ended the game in emphatic fashion. Highland had closed to within 3-2 in the sixth, so the Tartans’ dugout was alive at the start of the top of the seventh.
Balzan struck out first batter, looking. He struck out the second batter, looking. He struck out the third batter, swinging.
Shawnee pitcher Jackson Balzan is congratulated by teammates after his two-hitter.
“I didn’t get that many strikeouts [during the first six innings],” Balzan said. “I wanted to shut the door.”