The Columbus North baseball team is on the cusp of breaking a 19-year sectional title drought.
But to end that dry spell, the Class 4A No. 6 Bull Dogs will have to get past one of their big nemeses. Bloomington South knocked North out of last year’s sectional and beat the Bull Dogs 4-3 during this regular season.
North (22-5-1) will meet the Panthers at 6 p.m. today in the finals of the East Central Sectional. A win would give the Bull Dogs their first sectional title since 1995.
“We need to have high energy and come out focused and come out hot,” said sophomore center fielder Canaan Baum, who leads North with three home runs and 40 RBIs. “I know we’re going to want to get back and show them what we’re actually made of.”
North coach Ben McDaniel plans to start sophomore ace Collin Lollar on the mound. McDaniel made a bold move when he threw junior Cody Burton in Friday’s 2-0 semifinal win against Bloomington North, saving Lollar for the final.
“I’m sure Collin is going to pitch outstanding,” Burton said. “Our bats will be hot, and I think we’ll have a good chance.”
Lollar is 5-1 with a 3.29 ERA. He started the May 14 game against Bloomington South and left with a 3-2 lead after five innings.
“Especially since we got beat by them earlier in the year, I want a little redemption from that game,” Lollar said. “I had bad control that game, and my first-pitch strikes weren’t there, so I need to get ahead early in the count. That will help me a lot.”
The Panthers (15-7) will likely start senior ace Gage Rogers, a High Point recruit. Rogers threw a one-hitter in Wednesday’s 4-0 win against 4A No. 7 Shelbyville, then pitched the final inning to earn a save in Friday’s 6-5 win against Columbus East.
“They have some good pitching,” McDaniel said. “I’m not sure if they’ll be able to throw their ace or not. They have a couple of guys that are very crafty and work well.”
Junior shortstop Devin Mann leads North with a .443 average, 13 doubles and five triples and has two homers and 23 RBIs. Other top hitters include junior catcher Evan Finke (.433, two homers, 25 RBIs); freshman second baseman Cooper Trinkle (.359, 10 RBIs); Lollar (.355, 14 RBIs); Burton (.348, two homers, 21 RBIs); sophomore infielder Hunter Liggett (.346, 16 RBIs); senior pitcher Christian Glass (.346, seven RBIs); sophomore first baseman Brice McDaniel (.339, eight RBIs) and senior left fielder Will Dorenbusch (.280, 13 RBIs).
“We have to hit,” Ben McDaniel said. “If we play defense like we did (Friday) and can string some hits together, we should be in good shape, but we have to play Bull Dog baseball.”
Ben McDaniel knows Lollar will have to be at the top of his game for the Bull Dogs to have a shot tonight.
“Bloomington South is definitely offensive,” Ben McDaniel said. “They showed that against East (Friday) when they put five runs up in the third. They strung some hits together, and they are big. They have a few big guys, three right in the middle of their lineup, that can hit, and when they hit it, it goes a long way.
“They have the power,” he said. “They have speed. (Coach) Phil (Kluesner) likes to do a lot of small ball, so we have to work on our bunt coverage a little bit and be ready to defend that.”
North appears to be at full health for the first time since early in the season. Brice McDaniel has recovered from an injury, and Mann, who had been used as the designated hitter, played shortstop Friday for the first time since injuring a bicep.
“I think we have a good chance because we have everybody back — me and Brice,” Mann said. “With C-Loll on the mound, it’s probably the best chance we have going into it.”