BLOOMINGTON — It was a game neither team deserved to lose.
Here was Columbus East, which arrived back at school from Thursday night’s 11-inning win against Shelbyville in Bloomington at 12:45 a.m. Friday. Most of the players got home after 1 a.m. and had to be back for school by 7:45 a.m.
Yet, here were the Olympians, battling back from an early 5-0 deficit to tie Columbus North, then falling behind 7-5 before having a chance in the sixth to take control.
Then, there’s Columbus North. The Bull Dogs are a resilient bunch if there ever was one. They’re also an opportunistic bunch.
Thursday, they took advantage of an error to score the go-ahead runs in the sixth inning of a 4-3 opening-round win against East Central. Then Friday, North capitalized on a pair of throwing errors in their five-run first in what would become a 7-6 sectional semifinal win.
East coach Jon Gratz had every right to blame his team’s slow start on a lack of sleep the night before. And it would be hard to blame the weary-eyed Olympians if they would have folded their tents after watching the Bull Dogs put up the five-spot to begin the game.
“You don’t want to make excuses,” Gratz said. “That’s part of it. We made some mistakes in the field, and they put some pressure on us. I don’t think that (lack of sleep) had anything to do with our slow start.”
The back-to-back nights of games were necessitated by Wednesday’s rainout. Those first-round games were pushed back to Thursday, with North playing in the 6 p.m. opener and East in the nightcap, which began around 8:35 p.m. and finished about 11:15 p.m.
The Bull Dogs had a little bit of a challenge of their own. Because of transportation issues, they didn’t get to Bloomington North for Thursday’s game until 5:20 p.m., which was precisely the time they were to begin taking infield. Maybe it had an effect, because the Bull Dogs committed three errors in the first two innings in falling behind 3-2.
“Every minute that went by (Thursday) night was an advantage for us,” North coach Ben McDaniel said. “But it’s rough getting here. The advantage of the (early) game was one thing, but that first game was rough. It’s tough to get over here. These guys don’t get out of school until 3:15, we don’t get a bus until 4:15. Getting over here, getting loose and getting everybody ready to go is hard.”
Friday, there was no such cunundrum. North secured an earlier bus, McDaniel made some adjustments to the schedule and the team arrived in plenty of time.
The Bull Dogs, which avenged a 2-0 regular-season-loss to the Olympians, now have a couple of days off before Monday’s 6 p.m. sectional title game. Their opponent — either Bloomington North or Bloomington South — wasn’t to be decided until late Friday night.
Columbus North hasn’t had much luck against either Bloomington school in the sectional in recent years. The Bull Dogs lost to the Cougars in the 2012 final and to the Panthers in the semifinals in 2013 and last year. The one exception came in 2014 when Columbus North beat both Bloomington schools at East Central to win its first sectional since the turn of the century.
Monday night, the Bull Dogs will try for their first sectional title since 2014. Senior second baseman and co-captain Cooper Trinkle was a freshman starter on that team and leads this year’s squad in hitting.
“We just to come out and play our brand of baseball,” Trinkle said. “We have to have good approaches at the plate, we have to pitch and we have to play defense. If we do those three things, like we have the last two nights, we’ll come away with the win.”