IF the Columbus North baseball team can find a way to close out games, the Bull Dogs might just produce a season to remember.
However, getting the job done late has been a frustrating problem for head coach Ben McDaniel and company.
An 11-5 loss to Class 4A No. 3 Floyd Central on Friday evening at Southside Elementary was simply disheartening for a No. 9-ranked North squad that took a 5-4 lead into the top of the seventh.
To that point, North starting pitcher Cody Burton had handled the powerful Highlanders lineup with the exception of junior Brandon Smith, who hit two-run homers in the first and third innings.
Smith, who also pitched a complete game for Floyd Central, crushed his first homer to dead center, getting it high into the jet stream. In the third, he launched the ball over the fence in left center.
It appeared that North was going to register the victory when Burton worked his way out of trouble in the sixth. The Bull Dogs had taken the 5-4 lead with three runs in the first and two in the fourth and Burton was getting ahead of hitters and dominating.
Then to lead off the sixth, Smith came to the plate again and North decided to pitch to him. He crushed a triple to the left center field fence, barely failing to get his third homer of the night.
But with a man at third and none out, Burton went to work. He struck out the next two batters and induced a fly out to right field to end the threat.
With the bottom of the Floyd Central lineup due to hit in the seventh, it appeared North would register an impressive victory.
Instead, it got ugly for the home team.
Floyd Central’s Austin Newell, the No. 8 hitter in the lineup, hit a dying duck single into left field on an 0-2 pitch from Burton. Then No. 9 hitter Aiden Cora reached on an error.
When Michael Springer placed a double just inside the right field foul line, Floyd Central scored twice to take the lead.
North coach Ben McDaniel replaced Burton with reliever Christian Glass, but the entire Bull Dogs lineup seemed to slump a bit after losing the lead. Two more doubles, two walks and a single later and the Highlanders had an 11-5 lead.
North picked up a one-out single from Canaan Baum, who had three hits, in the bottom of the seventh, but could manage nothing else offensively.
McDaniel took his squad, which fell to 13-4-2, out to left field for the usual post-game talk while the Highlanders, 19-2, celebrated long and loud on North’s home field.
“It stings a little,” McDaniel said. “We played with them and hung with them. I really feel we were an out away from winning, it we could have gotten that first out (in the seventh). We had a good shot at closing that game out.
“But that was the first time this season I saw our heads drop.”
McDaniel said he didn’t want to take anything away from a great effort by the Highlanders.
“They hit the ball hard to all fields,” he said. “We just have to learn how to stop the bleeding.”
North scored three runs in the first inning when Baum singled and, after Evan Finke was hit by a pitch, came home on Cody Burton’s double. Finke scored on a wild pitch and Burton scored on a sacrifice fly by Will Dorenbusch.
Down 4-3, the Bull Dogs put two more runs on the board in the fourth. Hunter Liggett singled with two outs and went to second on a wild pitch. Brice McDaniel then ripped a single up the middle to bring home Liggett and McDaniel scored on Collin Lollar’s double.