The shift in the seventh inning Friday might have been more to play with Evan Finke’s mind than to defend his swing.
Columbus North’s Finke came to bat with one out and the bases loaded against visiting Roncalli with the teams tied 3-3. Rebels coach Deron Spink removed his right fielder and placed him in the infield.
Spink had a wall of infielders standing on the infield grass, almost daring Finke, a right-hander hitter, to try to pull the ball through them. Then there was that wide-open right field with nobody home.
Finke never flinched, though, hitting a sacrifice fly deep enough to left field to bring home Christian Glass with the winning run as the Bull Dogs (14-5-1) prevailed 4-3.
“I was just trying to find somewhere to hit the ball deep enough,” said Finke, who said he didn’t pay any attention to the wall of infielders. “I was just trying to hit a line drive.”
The North players mobbed Glass, who also was the winning pitcher, in celebration of a nice comeback victory.
“That win shows we’ve grown,” said North coach Ben McDaniel. “We’ve been on the other end of those games that have been decided in the seventh inning or later. Three of them.”
It’s obvious that McDaniel is counting, and his players are all too familiar as well with games they’ve allowed to slip away. That was not the case Friday.
“Yeah,” said Finke with a huge sigh. “Finally.
“These close games are going to make us stronger as a team.”
If North is stronger as a team, it’s not because the Bull Dogs are healthy. A series of injuries have forced the coaching staff to shuffle players to new positions in search of a good fit. For example, sophomore outfielder Collin Lollar played first base for the first time Friday night.
Regular first baseman Brice McDaniel is out with a strained ulnar collateral ligament and he hopes to get back by the sectional playoffs. Other players are an assortment of injuries, including usual shortstop Devin Mann, who is handling the designated hitter duties.
Fortunately for the Bull Dogs, he still can hit.
Roncalli (13-7) didn’t challenge Mann his first two times to the plate and he walked both times, and eventually scored on Finke singles. Roncalli pitched to Mann in the fifth inning and he tripled to left field, and scored North’s third run on Canaan Baum’s single.
Although Mann can’t be as involved with every play as DH, he does whatever he can to stay ready.
“It’s definitely something you have to get used to,” he said. “I do a lot to prepare my legs and my body.”
Roncalli didn’t make the mistake of pitching to Mann again, intentionally walking him before Finke’s game winning sacrifice fly.
Ben McDaniel is just glad that some of his injured players still can contribute.
“Earlier this year, we actually introduced some adversity to see how we would deal with it,” Ben McDaniel said. “Now I think we are dealing with more adversity than we would really like.”