Host Columbus East and Bloomington North played the near-equivalent of a baseball doubleheader Wednesday evening, enduring a dozen innings before the visiting Cougars left with a 6-4 victory.
The hard-fought marathon could happen again as the same two squads meet again in 10 days in semifinal action of IHSAA Sectional 14 at Shelbyville.
The Olympians (15-7) appeared to be well on their way to knocking off the ranked Cougars (21-4) after building a 3-0 lead through five innings. But the guests knotted the action twice in the final two regulation innings before finally pushing across the winning scores nearly 90 minutes later.
East senior starting pitcher Yates Burkhart had kept North off the bases early on, tossing four perfect innings before yielding a two-out hit in the fifth. By that time, his teammates had plated single runs in the second and fourth innings, and then added a third score in the bottom of the fifth after Cam Curry led off with a single and scored two outs later on a bloop single by Christian Wichman.
But a rough sixth inning for Burkhart turned the momentum of the contest.
After two quick outs, the Cougars worked their first walk of the game and followed with a single and hit batsman to load the bags.
Bloomington North cleanup hitter Bryce Aldridge then ripped a triple deep into right-center that cleaned the bases ahead of him.
The tie was short lived as the Olympians answered in the bottom of the sixth after Jordan Johnson opened with a triple of his own. He then put his crew back in front 4-3 after Peyton Gray, who drove in the team’s first run with a double, hit a deep sacrifice fly to bring Johnson home.
Unfortunately for East fans, the Cougars also were not finished as they answered with a leadoff double and score one out later, also with a deep fly ball.
“We just lost our focus late in the (regulation) game,” East coach Jonathan Gratz said. “We were hitting the ball early, but it went away late.”
In fact, after Bloomington North pulled starting pitcher Zach Cleaver, the O’s managed just two more hits, which included Johnson’s triple.
The Cougars did not do much better over the final five innings, also registering two hits, but also taking advantage of a pair of East miscues. They opened the 12th with consecutive walks and then loaded the bases one out later when a fly ball was dropped in the outfield. A mishandled fielder’s choice brought in the go-ahead run, and the guests went up by two after Colby Stratten delivered a single.
The Olympians’ opportunity in the bottom of the 12th never materialized as they were retired in order.
“There’s a reason Bloomington North has won so many games, and it’s because they know how to win close games,” Gratz said. “We’ll learn from this and be ready tomorrow.”