After Columbus North had secured its first sectional baseball title since 1995 on Monday with a 5-3 win over Bloomington South, Ben McDaniel offered an interesting perspective.
“Nobody on this team was even born the last time Columbus North won a sectional,” said McDaniel, the Bull Dogs’ first-year head coach. “So these guys understand how important it is.”
North junior shortstop Devin Mann might not have been born for the school’s last sectional title, but he has experienced some sectional baseball pain. Mann was a freshman starter in 2012 when the Bull Dogs came into the sectional with only two losses, but were upset in the finals by Bloomington North.
“My freshman year, we were so close, and I knew this year, we had a legit shot,” Mann said. “It’s such a monkey off our back, and it feels so good to get that accomplished for the school.”
Mann and his teammates, ranked No. 6 in Class 4A coming into the East Central Sectional, will now advance to Saturday’s Evansville Regional.
North (23-5-1) had its ace on the mound Monday, and Collin Lollar delivered. The sophomore threw a five-hitter with seven strikeouts and no walks
“I had my velocity tonight, and I was getting ahead in the count a lot and keeping my pitch count lower,” Lollar said. “I focused on first-pitch strikes, and I did a good job of that.”
“Collin did a fantastic job,” McDaniel said. “We’ve said it all year, ‘He has ice-water in his veins.’ He wants the ball in those big games.”
After four scoreless innings, the Bull Dogs got on the board with three runs off Panther ace Gage Rogers in the top of the fifth. With one out, Hunter Liggett singled and went to third on a double by Lollar. Bloomington South (19-8) then intentionally walked Mann to get to sophomore Canaan Baum.
Baum came up with a single to left to knock in Liggett. Courtesy runner Jon Cox rounded third but was held, and the Panthers appeared to have Mann in a rundown between second and third. But after the throw back to second, Cox came home, and Mann went to third. Mann then scored on a passed ball to make it 3-0.
“I just went up there with confidence, and since they loaded the bases, I knew it was my job to hit them in,” Baum said.
Bloomington South answered with three in the bottom of the fifth. The Panthers had runners at first and third with two out, and North appeared to be out of the inning after a grounder to short, but the runner from first beat Mann to the second base bag, with one run scoring. Austin Knapp then doubled down the right field line to make it 3-2, and Rex McHaley delivered an RBI single to tie it.
The Bull Dogs would score what would prove to be the winning runs in the sixth. With one out, Brice McDaniel was hit by a pitch and went to second on a single by Will Dorenbusch. After Tyler Bivins replaced Rogers on the mound, both runners moved up on a wild pitch, and with two out Liggett stroked a two-run double to left center.
“I have the same approach about every at-bat — make hard contact and try to get a good shot,” Liggett said.
“When Hunt got those two big runs, I felt like that was a huge momentum swing for us, and I knew from there on we had the win,” Mann said.
So did Lollar. He retired Bloomington South in order in both the sixth and seventh innings to preserve the title.
“Once we got those two runs, my adrenaline started pumping,” Lollar said. “I had my speed back after that.”
The Bull Dogs outhit the Panthers 8-5. Baum and Liggett each finished 2 for 3.
“It’s unbelievable,” Liggett said. “Our team definitely deserves it for all of the hard work that we’ve put in. It’s an amazing feeling, and I’m so proud to do it with this group of guys.”
“This is a special group, and all we did was bring it together,” Ben McDaniel said. “These guys don’t quit, and I’m so proud of them today.”
North will play Castle (22-8) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Bosse Field in Evansville. The regional championship will be at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“I feel like we have a great shot at regional, too,” Mann said. “We’re playing really good ball right now.”
“It feels great, but we’re not done yet,” Lollar said. “We have a long way to go.”