Bull Dogs avenge sectional final losses with first-round win vs. Golden Bears

Columbus North’s Kelsey Lovelace scores a run during Monday’s sectional game against Shelbyville at Columbus East High School in Columbus, Ind., Monday, May 20, 2024

Nicholas Shaw | For The Republic

After being shut down in the past two sectional finals by Shelbyville’s Cheyenne Eads, Columbus North started Monday’s first-round Columbus East Sectional game against Eads in much the same way.

Eads set down the first nine Bull Dogs she faced, eight via strikeout. But then North made the needed adjustments and plated a run on the fourth and three in the fifth on its way to a 4-0 victory against a team favored to win its third consecutive sectional.

“She’s such a great pitcher,” North coach TJ Jarvis said. “But we spent, Friday, Saturday and even practiced a little bit today before we came over here preparing and talking about the adjustments we needed to make on her from pitch to pitch, at bat to at bat. We have room to improve on it, but I saw all of the girls trying to do it tonight.”

The Bull Dogs (13-11) advance to Tuesday’s semifinals, where they will meet East Central in the second game at around 8:15 p.m. Franklin, a 5-3 winner against the host Olympians in Monday’s opener, will face Whiteland in the first semifinal at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The final is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Kelsey Lovelace, the lone senior on the North team, got the Bull Dogs going with a single leading off the fourth. Lovelace stole second and scored on a two-out single by pitcher Bailee Scruggs.

“The first at bat, I fouled it off, but I got out of the box,” Lovelace said. “I decided to make the adjustment to scoot back in the box and lay off the rise and let her give one to me that I could hit and help my team.”

“I made the opposite adjustment,” Scruggs added. “I knew I was going to swing at the high pitch either way, so I moved forward to get ahead of it.”

In the fifth, Ali Wooten and Destinee Allman, North’s No. 7 and No. 8 hitters in the lineup, came through with one-out singles. After Morgan Jarvis sacrificed them to second and third, Lovelace liked a two-out, two-run single. Lovelace took second on the throw to the plate and scored on a hit by Payton Morris.

Meanwhile, Scruggs was hurling gooseggs at the Golden Bears (15-10). She scattered seven hits in the shutout.

“My coaches and players, all day, I’ve been telling them I was nervous,” Scruggs said. “They keep telling me it’s just another game, so I went out there with that mentality, and it helped a lot.”

“She pitched great,” Jarvis added. “She had one strikeout, so the defense played fantastic behind her tonight. We have a good defense when we have all the pieces back in place, and tonight, we had all the pieces back in place.”

Eads, who is headed to University of Indianapolis, finished with 16 strikeouts.

Scruggs went 2 for 3 with a double at the plate, and Lovelace went 2 for 4 to lead North’s seven-hit attack.

“It was a great feeling,” Lovelace said. “It was definitely a team win. We were all hyped for this game, we all played together, we all made big plays and we never hung our heads once and that’s all you can ask out of a young team.”

Now, the key for the Bull Dogs will be avoiding a letdown against an East Central team that they needed a late rally to beat 8-7 in their season opener.

“We’re hoping that we come out with the same energy,” Jarvis said. “Coming off a game like tonight that felt like a championship game of some type, we want to show up (Tuesday) with the same energy. Our goal at the beginning of the season was not the wins and losses through the season, but to win the conference and win a sectional title.”

“As long as we give it our all, we’re not going to be disappointed,” Lovelace added. “We’ve prepared for this all year, and as long as everybody gives 110 percent effort, we’re fine with the outcome.”