Article By: CHUCK HIXSON Special to the Press
Kellan Tulio came into the season as the ace of the Emmaus pitching staff. Each of his starts had scouts from major league teams in attendance to get an idea of whether they would consider drafting him in the MLB Draft, which takes place next week.
An oblique injury interrupted Tulio’s season, but Emmaus had another pitcher, Braden Waller, emerge to take over as the staff ace after opening the season as the team’s closer.
While the Hornets struggled at times during the season, they have played some of their best baseball in the postseason and a lot of that comes down to Waller and his work on the mound.
Waller got the call in the first game of the EPC playoffs and threw a complete-game shutout against Parkland to put the team in the semifinals of the league playoffs. Waller’s next postseason outing came against top-seeded Northampton in the District 11 quarterfinals where the sophomore again threw a complete game in Emmaus’ 5-3 win.
Just three days later, Waller would top all of his previous starts when he no-hit fourth-seeded Easton in the district semifinals, which not only put Emmaus into the district finals, but guaranteed a spot in the PIAA playoffs.
“It feels great,” Waller said of his no-hit effort against the Red Rovers. “We didn’t play these guys this season, but I know last year they were quite a slugging team. Their bats are still good and they can make good contact. I just tried to work inside and outside and throw some off-speed and work with the fastball around the zone.”
Even though he was pitching on short rest, Waller didn’t show any ill-effects of returning early. Coach Jeremy Haas kept tabs on his pitcher’s progression after his start against Northampton. On Saturday Haas asked Waller how he felt and was told “I’m ready to go, coach.”
Waller may be a surprise to some, but Haas has seen something in Waller since before the season started that gave him confidence in turning to him for key games even in the postseason.
“We have a lot of talented arms and any time you have a lefty that’s in the low 80s and throws strikes and has three other pitches, it’s going to be really easy to compete,” said Haas. “What he does best is throws strikes and he fields his position really well, too.
“He competed. He threw all four pitches and threw them for strikes. They did him some favors because they wanted to get fastballs early and they popped them up and then they were striking out. They did him a lot of favors by letting him go deep in the game. Mostly, it was just getting ahead.”
On the season, Waller is 6-4 with a 1.95 ERA in 15 appearances and is still the team’s leader in saves with four.
Because of PIAA pitch count rules, Waller won’t be eligible to pitch against Liberty in Wednesday’s district title game, but Haas has other arms, including Tulio, who has returned from his injury, to turn to against the Hurricanes.
Waller will be relegated to cheering on his teammates and a possible pinch-hitting turn in the finals. For states though, he’ll be well rested and ready to go and he’s looking forward to what lies down the road for his team.
“It’s definitely a good feeling,” Waller said of Emmaus’ postseason success. “We did have a lot of ups and downs and I think it sort of cast a shadow over us and we started getting beside ourselves at times, but we had little wake-up calls and now we’re feeling pretty good.”