A strong pitching performance by Grant Bentley combined with a big third inning led the Northmor baseball team into the district finals.
The Golden Knights, taking on Fairfield Christian Academy, were tied with their opponents in the Division IV district semis at 1-1 going into the third, but would put four runs on the board in that inning and never look back in earning a 6-1 decision that advanced them to a Wednesday game against Berne Union.
Both teams got on the board in the first inning. After FCA pitcher A.J. Holbrook retired the first two Northmor hitters, Drew Hammond smacked a double and would come home on a single by Garrett Harvey to give the Golden Knights the early lead.
Fairfield Christian would immediately retaliate, though. With one out, J.P. Vance reached base on an error, moved to third on a single by Andrew Keener and then scored on a passed ball. However, Bentley would shut them down the rest of the way. The Northmor junior only faced trouble in the third inning when, with two outs, he hit a pair of batters and walked a third to lead the bases. However, he would then induce a fly ball to get out of that inning with no harm done.
“They scored one and it was unearned,” said head coach Buck Workman. “That’s what Grant does. His ERA is below one now and he probably is averaging four to five strikeouts a game. The defense is on its toes when he’s pitching because they know they’re going to put the ball in play, but he gets a lot of ground balls and a lot of pop-ups. he keeps people off balance and he just does what he does.”
And strong defense didn’t hurt. That third-out fly ball was recorded on an over-the-shoulder catch by Cole Cuffman — just one big play in a game that included diving catches and a perfectly-executed double play.
“You could go across the board,” said Workman. “All these guys made a play at one point in time on defense. We had two big plays in the outfield to save hits. Cole Cuffman had a couple nice catches on short fly balls behind him. Trev (Brubaker) started that double play in the hole there. I was happy to have one (out). Those were huge plays and momentum changers for us.”
By the time the bottom of the third inning rolled around, Northmor had already opened up a commanding lead thanks to a strong performance in the top of that frame.
Cuffman led off with a single and moved all the way to third when the ball got past the Fairfield right fielder. With one out, Brubaker was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners. A single by Hammond drove in one run and a groundout by Harvey made it a 3-1 game. Cooper Thomas then got a single to add another run to Northmor’s tally. After Caiden Martinez was hit by a pitch, Nick Armrose then cracked a run-scoring single to put Northmor up 5-1.
“We swung the bats pretty well today,” said Workman. “We were pretty aggressive at the plate, more aggressive than I’ve seen us be all year. You get the scouting reports and that kid only had seven walks on the year total, so you know he was going to be around the plate, so we went up there swinging early and often. We took advantage of a couple hit batters and we got some big hits with guys in scoring position to get some runs in.”
Northmor would add an insurance run in the seventh inning when Harvey reached base as the leadoff hitter and was brought home by a two-out single from Armrose.
With his team heading into the district finals, Workman is pleased with how his batters have progressed throughout the season. Coming into the year, he knew he’d have strong pitching, but after graduating a large senior class, wasn’t sure how the bats would perform.
“Earlier in the year, we were kind of manufacturing runs with a lot of bunting and a lot of small ball,” he said. “But now, as the season has gone on, these guys have gotten a lot of varsity at bats against good pitching. They’re starting to swing the bats better, so that’s nice to see where we can string some hits together. Early in the year, we couldn’t do that. We were winning games 2-1 or 3-2, but lately we’ve been able to swing it pretty good.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS