BLOOMINGTON — The Columbus North senior baseball players had a little added incentive to win Monday night beyond the obvious fulfillment of a sectional title.
They don’t have to be at graduation practice at 7:30 this morning.
Since the Bull Dogs will be playing in the Evansville Regional on Saturday afternoon — thanks to an 11-1, five-inning win against Bloomington South — their seven seniors won’t be going through the graduation ceremony. That means they don’t have to go to this morning’s practice, either.
And that’s just fine with them.
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“We get to sleep in (today),” senior co-captain Cooper Trinkle said. “Our seniors didn’t want to have to sit through that whole graduation thing. We definitely wanted to do it for that, but having that trophy is even better than not having to walk in graduation.”
North (15-12), which won its first sectional title since 2014, will play Martinsville about 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the regional at Bosse Field in Evansville. The regional championship will be at 6 p.m. that evening.
The Bull Dogs left little doubt they would be making the trip in Monday’s sectional final. They jumped on the Panthers for two runs in the first and eight more in the second to take a 10-0 lead after two innings.
“Bloomington South is always a great team, and they put us out last year,” Trinkle said. “We’ve always played great games with them, so I expected a grinder-type game. But coming out the first two innings and putting up 10 runs was huge.”
North’s two first-inning runs came on only one hit. Tyler Finke led off with a walk, went to second on a wild pitch, took third on a bunt single by Wade Rankin and scored on a sacrifice fly by Cooper Trinkle. Rankin, who had stolen second and taken third on the sacrifice fly, scored when Nolan Wetherald reached on an error.
The Bull Dogs didn’t look like they would add to the lead in the second after Korry Drum was hit by pitch to lead off the inning but was caught trying to steal second. But North scored eight times before Bloomington South recorded the second out.
Two Panther errors contributed to the Bull Dogs’ big inning. Kevin Thompson and Parker Maddox had RBI singles, and Grant Trinkle had a two-run single.
“We wanted to set the tone early,” North coach Ben McDaniel said. “(Indiana University recruit Alex) Franklin is their No. 1 (pitcher), and we saw him go (Friday) night, so we knew that they didn’t have a whole lot left. But give credit to our hitters. We had a great plate approaches the entire game, and we just kept the hammer down.”
Bloomington South scored a run in the top of the third, but the Bull Dogs got the run back in the bottom of the inning. Thompson singled with two out, Wetherald was hit by a pitch and Maddox delivered another RBI single.
From there, North freshman Casper Clark shut down the Panthers. Clark finished with a five-hitter and struck out six in five innings.
“(Starting the sectional title game is) what I wanted,” Clark said. “I had anticipated it and dreamed about it, and when I got the call to do it, I was beyond belief. That’s a huge deal for me. I was pretty nervous, and my heart was racing throwing in the bullpen before the game, but once I got out there, I calmed down.”
Clark ended the game with back-to-back strikeouts, leading his teammates to pile on top of him on the mound in celebration.
Thompson finished 2 for 2 at the plate. Maddox went 2 for 3 with two RBIs.
“We’ve been dreaming about this all year, and this is why we put in all the work we did in the offseason and all the morning workouts,” Thompson said. “We all bought into it because we knew that we could come out here and do this.”