Two times junior Nolan Binkele stepped off the mound in the CIF playoffs, and two times he was the loser. The third time proved to be a different story.
Binkele pitched a two-hit complete-game shutout in Paso Robles’ 5-0 wild-card round win Wednesday over Cathedral in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs. It was a big-time performance — one born from being thrust into similar pressure-packed situations his freshman and sophomore years — that has the Bearcats facing a first-round playoff game Friday against Palm Desert.
He remembers the losses well, admitting “I blew both of them.”
Binkele took the mound in a second-round game as a freshman against Great Oak and again the following year as a sophomore in a first-round game against Quartz Hill, losing both times. He made 15 appearances as a freshman with a 2-2 record, and was 8-2 as a sophomore in 14 appearances with an ERA of 1.67.
It proved to be a valuable experience, as the three-year starter left nothing to chance on Wednesday, allowing no runners past second base and just two hits, thanks in part to a stout defense behind him that turned two double plays.
“I came into this one a little nervous, but my defense picked me up,” Binkele said.
Paso Robles head coach Derek Stroud knew just what he’d get from his ace.
“I’ve watched Nolan pitch since he was 10 years old,” Stroud said. “From Sherwood Acres to Babe Ruth to high school, he just competes. He stays within what he has.”
Binkele doesn’t overpower hitters, instead forcing weak contact and trusting the defense behind him. He throws in the high 70s yet doesn’t rely on deception to force outs. He had only two strikeouts Wednesday and has just 51 Ks in a PAC 8-leading 85 1/3 innings for the season.
“I’m not going to try to trick them or anything,” Binkele said. “I’m going to give them what they know they’re going to get, and maybe if I get them 0-2, I’ll give them something tricky.”
It works. The Bearcats are 8-4 in games that Binkele starts, and the left-hander boasts a 1.16 ERA.
“Our team feels confident about Nolan. He’s been starting since he was a freshman.” Stroud said. “I give a lot of credit to his catcher (Mark Armstrong) — they call the game. They work together. I give Mark Armstrong a lot of credit for mixing it up.”
Stroud added that the sophomore Armstrong has a good feel for calling pitches.
“When (Nolan) does a good job, obviously to me it means the catcher has done a good job,” Stroud said.
Binkele also had an RBI single to go with his shutout against the Los Angeles school and is batting .287 on the year with six doubles and 18 RBI. Binkele said that next year he hopes to become a strikeout pitcher. For now, he appears to be doing just fine.