DES MOINES — It didn’t go exactly to plan for Greg Thissen.
Davenport Assumption’s first-year head baseball coach wanted to get through Tuesday night’s Class 3A state quarterfinal without having to pitch ace Nick Gottilla.
But after unranked Boone squared up several pitches against Jayson Willers and struck for a three-run third inning to snare the lead, Thissen had no choice but to use the University of Central Florida signee.
Gottilla pitched four shutout innings in relief and second-ranked Assumption scored five runs in the middle innings to prevail 7-3 at Principal Park.
“There is a lot of anxiety,” Thissen said. “When you come up here, everything is on the line. (Boone) played well, found some barrels and jumped on (Willers’) fastball. I didn’t think they could hit that well, so they showed some stuff tonight.”
Assumption (32-4) did enough to keep its quest for a state three-peat alive. The Knights have won nine consecutive quarterfinal contests at the state tournament dating back to 2004.
This was far from a gimme.
Willers came in with a 6-0 mark and 1.96 ERA, but Boone (20-13) had four hits off him in the third inning. Spencer Turner ripped a bases-clearing double to give the Toreadors the lead.
“I wasn’t throwing too hard today, and I’m not sure what it was,” Willers said. “They had one or two key hits where I left hanging breaking balls or changeups.”
Willers had no problem with Thissen making a pitching move.
“I was a struggling a little bit and my velocity was definitely coming down,” Willers said. “Nick, a southpaw and throwing way harder, it was a good move. Their lineup didn’t expect it.”
Gottilla yielded a bunt single and two walks over the final four innings. He struck out five and finished with 64 pitches, meaning he could come back and pitch in Friday’s semifinal against No. 3 Central DeWitt or if Assumption reaches Saturday’s championship game.
“I really didn’t plan on pitching,” Gottilla said. “They told me I was going to come in potentially for a save situation, but when they call my name, I’ve got to be ready.”
Assumption generated more offense than it has in the previous two tournament games.
Held to two runs against Washington and three versus Fairfield, the Knights capitalized on six hits, three walks and three hit batsmen.
Jeremy McIntosh scored on a wild pitch to even the game in the fourth. Gottilla drilled a double to center to bring in the go-ahead run.
"We are pretty resilient," Gottilla said. "I wasn't too worried at that point, but we definitely had some work to do."
Assumption added on with three insurance runs in the fifth against Boone starter Bret Price, who came in with a 6-2 record and 1.73 ERA. Willers and McIntosh had run-scoring hits while Noah Wieman launched a sacrifice fly to bring in a run.
“We weren’t as aggressive the past two games, but we came in with the mentality this week we were going to be aggressive at the plate and jump on pitches,” said Brandon Schlichting, who had a two-out, two-run double in the second inning. “It helped us a lot.”
Thissen was pleased with his team's approach in the box.
“We were much better on fastballs in the zone,” he said. “The last two games, I felt like it was a no, no, yeah approach. We were just waiting to see if it was going to be a strike before we started to get a barrel there.
"Tonight, we were loading it up and trying to hit balls in the zone.”
Gottilla finished it off.
He recorded two strikeouts in the sixth and worked a perfect seventh. When Schlichting hauled in the final out in right field, Gottilla tossed his glove in the air.
“Playoffs bring out a lot of emotion,” Gottilla said. “Being down and coming back like that brings out a lot of emotion in our guys. It keeps us pumped up and ready for Friday.”