TOLONO — In a regional loaded with pitching talent, the first marquee matchup did not disappoint.
St. Thomas More pitcher Austin Tabeling mowed down top-seeded Unity's lineup in a complete-game one-hit shutout. The Sabers moved on to Saturday's regional championship with a 4-0 win Wednesday.
Tabeling's opposite number, Austin Fender, also threw a solid game, allowing three hits.
Fender could not work around six walks and four errors, however.
"It's hard to point the finger at Austin. We just didn't hit. He did a really nice job ... we have to expect to win when he throws," Unity coach Dan Cunningham said. "We ran into a buzzsaw. Tabeling threw really well."
Tabeling was, indeed, a buzzsaw against the Rockets. He hit a batter in the first inning and gave up a hit to Mitch Negangard in the second, but after that he was perfect for five innings. He struck out seven and faced one more than the minimum.
"My fastball was working real well, and my curveball was hitting the right spots," Tabeling said.
"Getting runs really helped keep me calm."
The Sabers' offense soothed the right-hander with some small ball in the top of the third inning.
They manufactured a run on a double steal, Mike Rubenacker sliding in safely at home, then added a second run on Trent Kunas' double to left field.
Fender shut down the Sabers for the next few innings, but in the seventh they worked a little more small-ball magic to give Tabeling more breathing room. An error, a walk and a wild pitch got Mike Plecki across for the Sabers' third run in the seventh. Tabeling then helped himself with an RBI single, scoring Rubenacker.
Creating runs is something STM has become good at this season. Without a lot of power, Tabeling said, the team has had to master fundamentals. Coach Steve Rear said his team did on Wednesday what it worked on every day in practice.
"When you play a good team like Unity, it boils down to the fundamentals," Rear said.
This is the second consecutive year Unity received a top seed and was ousted in its first regional game. For STM, going against a top seed gave the Sabers extra motivation.
"We've had an up-and-down season, but we knew we could beat them," Tabeling said.
"We're hot right now. I think we can win the regional and maybe go even farther."
The Sabers will need more solid pitching in the regional championship Saturday if they are to keep going in the postseason. They will take on the winner of Thursday's game between St. Joseph-Ogden and Oakwood at 11 a.m. in the regional final.