BLOOMINGTON — Columbus North hit the ball hard the first five innings, but after the first, the Bull Dogs didn’t have anything to show for it.
Finally, in the sixth, they caught a break.
Trailing East Central 3-2 with two out and runners on second and third, Nolan Wetherald hit a routine grounder to short. The ball got through for an error, allowing two runs to score, and North held on for a 4-3 win in the opening round of the Bloomington North Sectional.
“We hit a lot of balls right on the screws, but we hit them right at guys,” North coach Ben McDaniel said. “I think we were due to see a couple of those finally get through there in the sixth inning, and that’s what we told them — ‘Keep hitting them, and they’ll drop.’”
The Bull Dogs (13-12) move on to today’s semifinals, where they will face the winner of Thursday’s late game between Columbus East and Shelbyville. The championship game will be Monday.
The Trojans jumped on the board with a home run from Ryan Mitts with one out in the first. North came back with two in the bottom of the first.
Tyler Finke led off with a walk and went to third on a double to center by Wade Rankin. East Central’s Samuel Sehlhorst came up with a strikeout, but on the throw to first after a dropped third strike, Finke raced home with the tying run. Then with two out, Wetherald delivered and single to score Rankin.
The Trojans took advantage of two errors to score a pair of unearned runs in the third to take a 3-2 lead against Kevin Thompson.
“I think we gave them two runs, but Kevin has icewater in his veins,” McDaniel said. “He could have collapsed there because one of the mental errors was his. The making was there for Kevin to have a meltdown, but it shows the mental makeup of the kid and the maturity that he was able to battle through that and stay in and get the win.”
Thompson settled down after the second. He retired the side in order in the third, fourth and fifth before allowing a leadoff walk in the sixth. Then, he retired the final six batters.
Thompson finished with 14 strikeouts.
“I definitely got stronger as the game went on,” Thompson said. “My mechanics were more with it. I had some mechanical issues in the first couple innings, and after that, I settled down, and it just went smooth from there.”
Sehlhorst was also in control through the middle part of the game. He retired 11 in a row before the Bull Dogs came to bat in the sixth.
Finke led off the inning with a single and went to second on a bunt single by Rankin. After Cooper Trinkle sacrificed them to second and third, Sehlhorst came up with a strikeout.
That set up Wetherald’s grounder that turned into the fateful error.
“I know that we have the capability of being able to come back and score whenever we want,” Thompson said. “We’re a team that we can get hot at the plate any time in a game.”
And on the mound, as well. Thompson wasn’t originally slated to pitch in the sectional opener, but after a solid performance Saturday against North Central, McDaniel called on him.
He’s glad he did.
“We have some guys that we’re a little bit concerned with right now,” McDaniel said. “Kevin is the only guy we’re not. Kevin has been on the rise the last couple of weeks. We were going a different direction until his last outing, and he pitched so well that we decided he deserved this game. We have faith in him, and he just proved why.”