Northmor’s Grant Bentley saved the best of a good performance for last.
The freshman pitcher struck out the last five Madison Plains batters he faced Thursday night as the host Golden Knights won the Division III sectional championship by a 5-1 margin.
“He got stronger as the game went on,” said head coach Buck Workman. “Apparently he needed 75 pitches or so to warm up. Sometimes he comes out of the gate with his stuff and other times not.”
Bentley fanned 11 Golden Warriors and didn’t allow a walk, while hitting one batter.
“We got out hit 7 to 5. What we did is take advantage of some mistakes they made and got a few walks and put runners on base,” Workman said.
The hosts took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Andrew Armrose hit a sacrifice fly to plate Max Lower, who had walked, advanced on an infield error and a bunt by Bentley.
Madison Plains knotted the game in the third when Ryan Ernst hit an RBI single to left, one of his three hits. But Northmor responded quickly in its half of the inning.
PJ Lower reached on an error. After Bentley walked, Armrose doubled to left center field to score Lower. Garrett Corwin then flew out to center to bring home Bentley.
The third run was courtesy of a Preston Harbolt RBI single.
Madison Plains got a one-out single in the fifth inning and a bloop single over first by Ernst, giving the visitors runners on first and second.
But centerfielder PJ Lower fielded a sharp single and made a perfect throw to the plate to nail the base runner and end the threat.
“They could have gotten a run in there. PJ came up and threw that thing on a fly, off balance … a missile right to Gavin (Whited). It was beautiful,” Workman said.
“All three of our outfielders have been doing that all year. We got good arms out there and cerebral kids who know what they’re doing.”
Ernst struck out two and walked a pair in taking the loss.
Northmor was 17-9 overall after the win. Madison Plains ended its season at 13-16.
The Golden Knights couldn’t make it two in a row in the playoffs, as they fell at home to Columbus Academy by a 10-0 margin Monday evening.
“The ball just didn’t bounce our way,” said Workman. “Anything they hit at us took a hop and hurt us. This doesn’t take away from a good season. Seventeen wins is as big of a number as we’ve had in a while.”
It didn’t take long for the Vikings to jump in front of their hosts. Tanner Compton and Finn Cassady both reached base on infield hits and Brady Hess immediately brought them both home with a three-run blast that easily cleared the fences. While starter Drew Hammond settled down and got out of the inning with no further damage done, the Golden Knights faced an early deficit.
They would add two more in the third on a hard-luck play for Northmor. With two outs and one runner on, Dylan Ritzenthaler hit a deep ball that glanced off a Northmor fielder’s glove and landed on the other side of the fence for a two-run shot.
Academy would then put the finishing touches on Northmor in the fifth inning, scoring five runs to increase their advantage to a 10-run margin.
The Golden Knights couldn’t get much offense going against Ritzenthaler. Both Corwin and Griffin Workman connected for singles, while PJ Lower, Armrose and Mathew Kearns all drew walks, but Northmor couldn’t string together enough plays to bring any runs home.
The team also had a rough day defensively, being charged for five errors. Of the 10 runs surrendered — all charged to Hammond — only four were earned.
Despite the rough day, Workman was pleased with his team’s season and feels they have the potential to be successful next year, as well.
“It was hard to know what would happen with the year off due to COVID,” he said. “I’m ecstatic — we had a couple freshmen and a junior do most of the pitching and they’ll all be back.”
One of those freshmen, Bentley, also had a strong performance defensively against the Vikings. He picked three Academy base-runners off first base.
“He’s an intelligent baseball player,” said Workman. “He’s played a lot of baseball over the years and he knows what he’s doing. That freshman status is not really true for baseball.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS