MOOSIC - It was simply a matter of trust.
The Wyoming Valley West Spartans put their faith in starting pitcher Chris Nixon, and Nixon responded by relying on his teammates.
That shared responsibility resulted in Nixon’s two-hit, one-run gem Monday night at PNC Field, where the Spartans rallied past Scranton, 2-1, for the District 2 Class 4A championship and a berth in the PIAA playoffs.
“He’s the reason why we won,” said Spartans center fielder Jeremy Sabecky, who had two of Valley West’s six hits and scored the game’s first run. “Put him out there every time.”
The Spartans put Nixon out there at their season’s most crucial time, with a district title on the line in the home of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
But the magnitude of the moment never made him nervous.
“Just treat it as a normal game,” Nixon shrugged, “and the outcome will be a normal game.”
His game featured a change of speeds that confounded Scranton’s hard-hitting lineup in a pitchers’ duel with hard-throwing counterpart Colin Maldonato.
“I want the ball,” Nixon said. “But I’m not a big-game pitcher.”
This is how you become one.
Nixon allowed just one soft single while retiring 15 of the first 17 men he faced and holding Scranton scoreless through the game’s first five innings. His precision and mix of pitches would make any RailRiders starter proud. And while Nixon hardly overpowered Scranton while striking out three batters during the night, he appeared to have complete control through most of the game.
“With the help of my team I did,” Nixon, a senior righthander, said.
Nixon received strong support from an error-less defense, including a diving stab of a sharp liner by first baseman Evan McCue and five assists from scurrying second baseman Mike Leonard.
“He was just making great pitches the whole game,” Leonard said, “not worrying about going for strikeouts, just trying to get popups and ground balls. Everyone got a part of the win. It’s not just one man throwing strikeouts. We’re confident in him because we know he’s going to throw strikes. Not a lot of walks.”
In other words, Nixon stayed within himself instead of trying to do something extra-special with strikeouts.
“That wasn’t expected of me,” Nixon said. “I just tried to meet expectations. Just hit your spots, I guess.”
The Spartans needed that unflappable attitude a couple times in the district championship.
The first came in the third inning, when Nixon left the potential tying run stranded at third base with an inning-ending strikeout.
The second came when Nixon kept his composure after Scranton tied the game, 1-1 on Jon Palochko’s sharp single to center field. That was just the second hit Nixon surrendered - and the last. He retired the last four Scranton hitters he faced before his teammates scored the gamewinner in the bottom of the seventh.
“We knew he wasn’t going to give up another run,” Leonard said. “We know he’s not going to blow up when he gives up a run.”
Ultimately, Nixon turned that trust into a district title for Valley West.
“It feels great, honestly,” Nixon said. “You never know it until it happens.”