SYRACUSE — Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”
The NorthWood Panthers learned that lesson the hard way in the Class 3A sectional baseball championship Monday at Wawasee High School.
The Panthers appeared to be headed for a seventh straight sectional title, leading Angola, 2-0, going into the top the seventh inning. The Hornets had other ideas and scored four runs on the way to a 4-2 victory for the program’s first sectional crown since 2013.
NorthWood took advantage of a couple throwing errors on bunt plays to plate solo runs in the first and fifth innings before their own miscues on bunt plays later on turned the tide in the favor of the Hornets.
“We talked before the game about how it was going to come down to who executed on the bunt plays and who executed the best on defense,” NorthWood coach AJ Risedorph said. “We went through the bunt situations and what to do this morning.
“We took advantage of their mistakes early on and they did it to us in the seventh. We gave up to many free bases.”
Senior pitcher Alex Holcomb had shutdown the Angola offense over the first six innings, limiting the Hornets to one hit — a single by sophomore Tucker Hasselman with two outs in the fifth inning.
“Alec had a no-hitter going for a while (4 2/3 innings), but that is the kind of effort we get from every time out. He is a competitor,” Risedorph said.
The loss was especially bitter for NorthWood since it was the first loss the seniors had ever experienced at the sectional level.
The loss was made even tougher by the fact that senior third baseman Kyler Hauptli was injured in the first inning and missed the rest of the contest.
Junior Jack Wysong walked on five pitches to lead off the bottom of the first. Hauptli then reached on a throwing error by Angola’s senior pitcher Aaron Chao. Wysong advanced all the way to third and scored on a sacrifice fly by senior Matt Dutkowski.
While Hauptli was on first Chao tried to pick him off and in the process Angola’s senior first baseman David Frank stepped on Hauptli’s right hand.
“He got cleated,” Risedorph said. “Kyler being out of the lineup changes things for us defensively. I hated to see him go out that way.”
Sophomore Jacob Raasch took over at third.
“He (Raasch) did a great job filling in,” the coach said. “It was a case of next man up.”
Holcomb accounted for the second NorthWood run in the fifth. He reached on a single and came all the way around to score as junior Josh Stratford tied to sacrifice him to second only to have Chao make another throwing error.
Holcomb sent the Hornets down in order in the top of the sixth before the Panthers had an opportunity to add some more runs in the bottom of the frame. Raasch led off with a single and Dutkowski followed with a single, giving NorthWood runners on first and second with no outs. Chao retired the next NW batter on a fly out to left and then induced an inning ending double play that left the Panthers clinging to that 2-0 lead going into the seventh.
Junior Chas Soulliere started things off for the Hornets with a single. Holcomb retired the next batter on a fly out to sophomore shortstop Nate Newcomer.
Risedorph was then faced with the decision of pitching to Chao or putting the potential tying run on base. The coach chose to pitch to Chao, who had grounded out to Holcomb in two previous at-bats. This time he slugged a double off the fence in center, making it a 2-1 game.
“Chao showed why he is a DI player,” Risedorph said. “He stayed poised and looked like a senior. He hit an off-speed pitch.”
Frank and junior Owen Shoup also drove in runs for the Hornets in the deciding frame.
Holcomb finished the contest with eight strikeouts. In the third and fourth innings, the Taylor University bound pitcher fanned five of the six batters he faced.
Chao ended up with 12 strikeouts and a walk.
Greg Keim can be reached at email@example.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 326. Follow Greg on Twitter @gkeim_TGN