AKRON — When he arrived at the pitcher’s mound during the bottom of the fourth inning Friday afternoon, Hillsdale catcher Carsten Betson found Jay Luikart in a lather.
Hillsdale’s hard-throwing left-hander had just walked two consecutive Minster batters to load the bases and didn’t feel like talking. That didn’t stop Betson from trying to settle Luikart’s nerves.
“The bases are loaded and I walked two guys and Carsten comes out laughing,” Luikart said after Hillsdale’s 1-0 state semifinal victory. “I’m not in the mood to laugh, but he always keeps a smile on my face.”
A junior, Betson is batting .393 with 26 runs batted in and a .568 on-base percentage. But the eye-popping statistics only tell a fraction of Betson’s story. He’s equal parts coach and psychologist and a big reason why the Falcons (28-2) are playing for the Division IV state title against Toronto at 1 p.m. Sunday at Canal Park.
“He’s the perfect guy for the job,” Luikart said. “He’s always calm and he’s always smiling.”
Betson, whose twin sister Olivia pitched the Hillsdale softball team to the state semifinals last week, is a unicorn in today’s high school game. In an era when coaches like to control every detail between the lines, first-year skipper Jason Snow allows Betson to call pitches from behind home plate.
“Our pitchers are comfortable with whatever Carsten calls,” Snow said. “It’s like having a coach behind the plate.”
Luikart said he and his batterymate are normally on the same page.
“I probably only shake him off two or three times in a game,” said Luikart, who needed just 91 pitches in Friday’s complete game shutout. “He knows how we want to attack hitters.”
Calling pitches for the Wright State-bound Luikart (11-0) isn’t such a tough assignment. He boasts a 0.61 earned run average and has struck out 122 in 68.1 innings.
“His stuff is so good that if he is throwing strikes, we’re going to get out of innings,” Betson said. “When he’s dealing, not many people are going to make solid contact.”
Hillsdale’s No. 2 pitcher, Garrett Goodwin, will likely get the ball in Sunday’s championship game. Goodwin, who is headed to Shawnee State, isn’t a typical No. 2 pitcher. The right-hander is 8-1 with a 1.08 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 51.2 innings pitched and has authored two no-hitters this season.
“It’s setting up well for us,” Snow said. “(Goodwin) will be ready to go. Hopefully we’ll play the same type of defense we did today (Hillsdale was error-less against Minster) and we’ll put a few more runs on the board.”
And if there comes a time when his pitcher gets into trouble, Betson will be there to calm him down — like he was for Luikart on Friday.
“He always gets the brunt of things,” Luikart said. “I feel bad. I always apologize after the game. I’ll say to him, ‘I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at myself.’
“He’s always smiling, though. I couldn’t imagine anyone better.”