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North coach knows best path for team

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It was a tiny glimpse into the coaching soul of Columbus North’s Ben McDaniel.

After one of his team’s late-game meltdowns, McDaniel conducted his usual post-game meeting in the left field grass. Suffice to say that he was not happy.

If you spent any time this season following the Bull Dogs (22-5-1) through McDaniel’s first year as head coach, you would have noticed that there was a lot of laughter surrounding the team. Sure, all those wins were part of it. Then again, it was obvious that McDaniel understands that the boys are playing a game.

That being said, McDaniel has high expectations for this particular group, so when the players came up short, McDaniel wasn’t shy about kicking butt.

On this particular day, it would have been uncomfortable to be a Columbus North Bull Dog. McDaniel let the kids have it, both verbal barrels.

I was standing a good 25 yards away from their gathering, and I could feel the heat. I remember thinking, “This probably isn’t going to be a very pleasant coach’s interview afterward.”

When the trip to the woodshed was complete, McDaniel stormed away from the team and headed toward me. He stopped a step or two in front of me, looked up ... and smiled.

The point here is that McDaniel is in control of anything to do with Columbus North baseball. He seems to know what buttons to push and when. His actions when it comes to his team are calculated and executed with a plan in place.

He controls his emotions, and doesn’t let his emotions control him. That has been obvious. In baseball, where the emotional highs and lows change from game-to-game and inning-to-inning, it is paramount that a head coach sets his team’s emotional tone.

You can bet that North Athletic Director Jeff Hester is smiling right now, after handing the keys to North’s baseball bus to McDaniel with the hope that the school’s 19-year sectional title drought could somehow end.

On Monday, McDaniel leads North into the East Central Sectional championship game at 6 p.m. against Bloomington South, a team that beat North 4-3 during the regular season. It’s a very even match that could go either way.

You’ve got to like North’s chances, though.

Take McDaniel’s decision Friday night to go with junior pitcher Cody Burton when many who follow North, including me, thought he would go with ace Collin Lollar.

Just look at the numbers going into North’s 2-0 victory on Friday. Lollar, 5-1, 3.29 ERA. Burton 2-3, 4.38 ERA.

It was North’s biggest game of the year.

McDaniel, though, knows his players and he understands that Burton is one of those “won’t be denied” kind of kids. His hunch was rewarded when Burton threw a two-hit shutout.

The win produced North’s newest, biggest game of the year, on Monday. Certainly, Lollar now is fresh. Who will McDaniel pitch? I guess I will just wait and see.

He seems to know what he is doing.

Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at or 379-5632.

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