By RANDY GONZALES
Special to the Telegram
HAYS — Somebody had to lose.
Nathan Zimmerman made sure it wasn't the Monarchs.
The top two seeded teams — with a combined record of 39-5 going in — met in Wednesday night's title game of the Class 3A Regional Championship at TMP Field.
The Thomas More Prep-Marian baseball team beat Lakin 4-1 to advance to next week's Class 3A State Championship in Manhattan.
Zimmerman, TMP's ace senior left-hander who has signed with Fort Hays State University, blew away Lakin batters with his heater on a cold night. Zimmerman also mixed in an effective breaking ball, striking out a career-high 17 batters while throwing a one-hitter.
"He's tough; we don't see that pitching at all," Lakin coach Steve Davidson said. "That hurt us. Nothing against the teams we play against, but we don't see that type of pitching very often.
"He's as good as anybody in the state," Davidson added. "If there's anybody better than him, I want to see him, because he's tough."
Zimmerman (7-1) was working on a 2-0 shutout until Lakin broke through with a run and its only hit in the sixth. A two-out walk and junior Bryant Miller's triple to right-center made it 2-1.
Zimmerman didn't know he had a no-hitter going.
"I had no idea," he said.
Zimmerman just knew he had his fastball, slider and curve on this night.
"Pretty much everything was working," Zimmerman said. "I just tried to locate over the plate because I knew I had a great defense behind me."
A defense which wasn't needed. Lakin hitters put five balls in play — two grounders, two fly balls and Miller's triple.
"We just didn't put the ball in play enough," Davidson said.
Zimmerman walked four batters, but didn't have a bout of wildness, which has plagued him in the past. There was a reason for that, said TMP coach Brian Schumacher. This was a big game, and Zimmerman is a big-game pitcher.
"That's the thing for big games, Nathan is just one who steps up," Schumacher said. "When the game's on the line, the season's on the line, he comes through for us."
TMP (19-4) got a run in the third off Lakin junior Ryan Swank. Junior Nick Hammeke tripled to right field with one out and scored on Swank's wild pitch.
The Monarchs made it 2-0 in the fifth. Sophomore Shane Zimmerman reached on a two-base error by Lakin senior second baseman Gilbert Magallanes and scored on Nathan Zimmerman's two-out single.
After Lakin (20-2) pulled within a run in the bottom of the sixth, TMP got a pair of insurance runs in the top of the seventh. With two outs, a pair of singles and a walk loaded the bases for junior Taylor Pfeifer, who hit a two-run single down the left-field line.
"It was a great relief," Nathan Zimmerman said of getting a three-run lead with three outs to go. "Taylor did a great job at the plate."
Nathan Zimmerman finished with a flourish, striking out the side in the seventh, with Cody Kinnier being the final victim.
TMP beat Lakin in last year's regional title game to make it to state, where the Monarchs finished second. TMP did the same thing again this year to make it to the season finale.
"It's a great weight off our chest, knowing we're going there for sure now," Nathan Zimmerman said.
Davidson was left to ponder another great season which came up short.
"We had a great year," Davidson said. "Two seniors on the team; most of these kids will be back out here next year. We're going to come out, see what we can do."
In the earlier semifinals, TMP advanced to the title game with an 8-4 win over Scott City in the semifinals while the Broncs squeezed by Goodland, 6-5.
Junior left-hander Pierce Schippers pitched a complete game for TMP. Schippers (4-1) allowed two hits, with two walks and nine strikeouts.
TMP took advantage of four Scott City errors in a six-run second inning. Sophomore right-hander Drew Kite pitched a complete game for Scott City (13-9) in taking the loss.
Lakin scored an unearned run in the bottom of the seventh for a 6-5 win over Goodland (14-8) in the other semifinal. Swank, who took the loss in the title game, was the winner in relief.
See linescores, Scoreboard, Page B2.