After watching his players rally in the sixth inning to tie Castle in Saturday’s Evansville Reitz Regional at Bosse Field, Columbus North coach Ben McDaniel was confident his team would come up big once again.
McDaniel looked over at his coaches as the game went into extra innings and said, “This is ours.”
But while the Bull Dogs have been in a rush to reach uncharted territory, they could not capitalize on their opportunities Saturday.
Castle stranded two North runners in the top of the ninth inning, then finally pushed across the winning run in the bottom of the inning for a 3-2 victory.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Castle’s Ryan Parker dribbled a grounder between third and short.
The Bull Dogs couldn’t even make a play as Ben Bunch crossed the plate with the winning run.
North’s magical season came to an end at 23-6-1.
“It’s hard to put into words what happened,” McDaniel said. “We left too many people on base. They were giving us a lot of opportunities to score, and we didn’t pull through.”
“And they pitched a tough game against us. When you outhit an opponent 11-5 and still come out on the losing end, it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
North pitchers Cody Burton and Collin Lollar combined on the five-hitter. It wasn’t enough.
Even so, North finishes with its first sectional championship since 1995, and brings back 16 players from the current roster.
“We were spoiled this year with great leaders,” McDaniel said. “This is one of the best teams I’ve had the privilege of being around, and I’m really going to miss the handful of seniors we are saying goodbye to.”
Seniors Will Dorenbusch, Morgan Murdock, Christian Glass and Michael Vogel received an ovation from the fans after the loss.
Dorenbusch, a starting outfielder, will head to the University of Arizona.
“I have to thank the rest of the team for our success,” Dorenbusch said. “We have eight of our nine starters returning next year. They are young, and they are going to make some noise next year.”
“None of this would’ve happened without them, so I can’t put a big amount of the credit on my shoulders. They were just as big of leaders as I was.”
When asked about Dorenbusch, McDaniel was emotional.
“He was an absolute workhorse for us this year,” McDaniel said. “He was a fighter and wanted to prove himself every day for us. It will be hard to replace someone like Will.”
The Bull Dogs got the first run on the board off an RBI single by catcher Evan Finke in the first inning. Castle scratched a run out against Burton in the second inning to tie it 1-1.
The Knights (24-9) took the lead with an RBI single by Korbin Williams in the fifth, but Brice McDaniel connected on an RBI triple to bring Finke home in the top of the sixth to make it 2-2.
Burton, who allowed four hits in five inning, said the team’s chemistry all season was awesome with the seniors leading the way.
Burton said all the players were tired of hearing that they couldn’t win a championship. “So we made it a point to prove everyone wrong,” he said.
They did, by winning a sectional championship.
“We just gave in to the system coach laid in front of us,” Finke said. “We played smart Bull Dog baseball and we were fortunate to get this far. We will come back next season more ready than ever.”
One of the returning players will be Brice McDaniel, who had four hits on Saturday, including a double and triple.
“We got out early this year wanting to prove something to everyone,” Brice McDaniel said. “We felt like we weren’t respected, and when we won one of the hardest sectionals in the state, I think we showed everyone just how tough we were and can be.”
With a new field this season, a championship and a host of players returning, Brice McDaniel said that there is more to come.
“I can’t wait to help the team get back here next year,” he said. “We know we can do it; we know what competition lies ahead for us. We will show that we belong at the top.”
His father agreed. “With seven seniors going into next year, we’re looking to surprise people again,” Ben McDaniel said. “We proved on and off the field that we can achieve great things, and we’ll do it again next year.”