MUNSTER | When the baseball sectional bracket was set by the IHSAA, Highland coach Dan Miller called Munster coach Bob Shinkan and asked "Are you going to pitch the guy who threw a two-hitter against us, or the guy who threw a one-hitter?"
By virtue of the rotation, Shinkan picked Jonathan Azar, who had previously thrown a two-hitter against the Trojans. On Friday, he allowed three hits and Munster gave up one unearned run as the Mustangs advanced in the postseason with a 9-1 win.
"My goal as a pitcher is no earned runs in seven innings, and we did that," Azar said. "I want to be throwing the last pitch of the seventh inning without an earned run."
Azar took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before he allowed a single to Alec Smith. He struck out nine, including the game's first and last batter.
The junior lefty was quick to credit his defense and his catcher, Alex Coccia, for his success.
"The defense did a great job, in the second or third inning, Craig Dedelow caught a ball in the outfield that seemed to hang in the air forever, they were really helping me out," Azar said. "Of course, I couldn't do it without Alex Coccia, my catcher, blocking three dropped third strike curve balls and he did a heck of job for me tonight."
He was helped along by an offense the accumulated four doubles, including one by Scott Shaner that tied a school record with 15 in a season. Munster scattered 15 hits against two Highland pitchers.
The Mustangs took a 4-0 lead after the third when Highland loaded the bases on an error, a single, a walk and scored on a hit batter.
Highland's defense notched three errors, allowing one of two runs in the seventh inning. Alex Freitag, who faced Azar in conference play, struck out four in 2 1/3 innings. Nick Jancich pitched 4 1/3 innings of long relief for the Trojans (11-13-1), allowing five runs and 11 hits.
Highland's Kevin Roach, who hit a double with one out in the seventh, later scored on an error to break the shutout.
"We put guys on base, but it wasn't enough," said Miller, who finishes his 32-year career at Highland with a 630-338-4 record. "When they took a 4-0 lead, four runs against us is like a million. I thought if we could have kept it to 1-0, we could have had a shot."
Dedelow went 3-for-5 from the leadoff spot for Munster (20-8) and Nick Marlow drove in three runs as the designated hitter. Joe Jumonville, who was 3-for-5, and Mike Mueller had two RBIs each.
"A big shot in the arm was Marlow's hit in the third inning that gave us a four-run lead," Shinkan said. "When we already had two runs on a hit batter and a passed ball, that was the big hit we needed. Hitting promotes hitting."