The Press Newspaper
There wasn’t a lot of bravado in Luke Rightnowar’s voice following his 8-3 complete-game victory over Lima Central Catholic on Thursday in the Division III regional semifinals in Elida.
The sophomore right-hander was merely stating what he and the rest of the young Comets have been feeling for quite a few weeks now.
“If we play the way we can,” Rightnowar said, “I think we can beat anyone.”
The win over the Thunderbirds, last year’s D-III state runner-up, was the 14th in 16 games for surging Genoa (20-9), which advanced to Friday’s regional title game against eighth-ranked Bloom-Carroll (24-4). By now, readers know whether the Comets have defeated Bloom-Carroll and advanced to the state final four at Huntington Park in Columbus.
This year marks the Comets’ first appearance in the regional tournament since 2000. They haven’t won a regional since the 1999 season, when Rightnowar, 16, and many of his current teammates were still learning how to walk.
Rightnowar, who improved to 9-0, held Lima CC to two hits through six innings and finished with a four-hitter, allowing three walks and striking out one. Genoa trailed 2-0 after one inning after allowing two unearned runs on a throwing error.
“The guys did what we do,” said second-year Genoa coach Ron Rightnowar, Luke’s father. “We played good defense and Luke kept us in it. Finally, we got our running game going and (Lima CC) couldn’t control it once we started running. We had four or five stolen bases and I think it took some starch out of them.”
Luke, whose leadoff double started a five-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning, said he just had to stay focused after falling behind by two runs in the top of the first.
“I just threw strikes and I knew the defense would back me up and the offense would start going,” he said. “I had to throw strikes. I didn’t walk too many people and I made them put it in play.”
Rightnowar entered the regional semis with a 2.49 ERA in 45 innings, with 25 strikeouts and 12 walks. He and junior Alex Hayes have pulled their weight on the mound for much of the season.
“Luke just kept coming on toward the end of the year,” said Ron, who pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1995. “We had some kids leave the team that were pitchers, for various reasons. Luke was in the rotation but was our No. 3-4 starter and he did well in those starts. When other guys left the team, he and Alex moved up into the 1-2 slot and Luke just kept getting better and better. Alex pitched two complete games against (Northern Buckeye Conference champion) Otsego. They’re both capable.”
Luke is certainly carving his own niche in the Rightnowar family.
His oldest brother, Jake, was the Toledo Area Athletic Conference Player of the Year for Toledo Christian in 2009. Nick Rightnowar was an All-TAAC shortstop at Toledo Christian and a two-time TAAC Player of the Year in football as a quarterback.
Their father, who has coached all three boys, said he has talked with Luke about being himself and not trying to outperform his older brothers.
“He’s his own guy,” Ron said. “He knows his dad played (professionally) and his brothers were successful. He understands he has to be Luke. He can’t be Nick and he can’t be Jake. They’re all a little bit different. He has far exceeded my expectations.”
Luke, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 160 pounds, said he takes comparisons to his brothers in stride.
“People always mess around with me about it, about what they did, and they joke around,” he said. “I know I’m not going to be them, so I just have to do what I do best. I can’t be them, so there’s no point in really trying.”
Luke has had to overcome more than his family’s reputation. Three years ago he fell awkwardly off the mound and snapped two bones in his left (non-throwing) arm.
“It was a gruesome break,” Ron said. “It really set him back.”
Luke took more than a year off from baseball and returned to play as a freshman last season at Toledo Christian, where his father used to be the head baseball coach. Ron took over at Genoa in 2012.
“When we made the move to Genoa, that gave me chance to work with him,” Ron said. “He enjoys baseball and he’s always been a very good pitcher, playing travel ball. He pitched a lot of ball as a kid. He had done more than most 13- and 14-year-olds by that time anyway, so he was ahead of the game. Getting back into baseball, now it’s just kind of coming back to him. He looks like the old Luke, just attacking hitters and working hard.”
Luke said he knew it was just a matter of time before he could get back on the mound.
“I knew I would eventually,” he said. “I just love to pitch. It just took a while to get back into it. It was also good at the same time, taking a break from it and letting everything come back to me and not rush into it. Part of me was, I don’t want to pitch. It took time to let go of the fact that it happened, that I wasn’t scared to pitch again.”