Linton and North Central were both defending high school baseball sectional champions, but the Thunderbirds’ move up to Class 2A did not go as they expected.
The host Miners (13-15) won a third straight Sectional 47 championship with a 8-2 victory in Monday night’s championship game.
North Central’s Connor Strain and Linton’s Tanner Butler, a pair of hard-throwing senior right-handers, had an epic pitching duel going in the middle innings.
Linton got the early lead, putting the pressure on the favored Thunderbirds, who finished another great season with a 20-6 record.
Linton made Strain pay for a few pitches left out over the plate. Abe Neff came up with two clutch hits to put his team ahead. The Miners’ junior second baseman had a two-run single in the third and a two-run double in the fifth to put his team up 4-0.
Linton got a good bounce on a slow roller down the third-base line, and then Aspen Taylor placed a beautiful bunt down the first-base line to set up two runners for Neff.
Strain got refocused and struck out the next six batters he faced, matching Butler who struck out the side in the fourth and fifth. Butler struck out 12 in six innings, giving way to Bryant Jackson in the seventh since Butler had tossed the entire 10 innings he was allowed Monday, winning a semifinal game earlier in the day.
Butler was able to go home and relax in the air conditioning and get his mind prepared for the title game. He said he relished the underdog role against the 20-6 Thunderbirds.
“We came down here as the underdog. It was tremendous winning this. I was all over it. I was at home thinking about the game all day. I was thinking if we win this game it was going to be crazy. It’s the first threepeat in Linton history,” Butler said.
Strain, heading to the University of Evansville next year to pitch, admired Butler’s effort Monday.
“Linton played a great game, their pitcher threw an outstanding game,” Strain said. “He got a little wild at the end, but other than that he was in the zone, mixing pitches up, keeping himself balanced. We were never really comfortable at the plate.”
The Thunderbirds left five runners on in the first four innings, but couldn’t string enough hits together as Butler seemed to get in a groove as the game moved along.
North Central had a rally going in the sixth after a single by Cole Johnson ended Butler’s run of six straight strikeouts. Nate Lyday walked, but Tyler Strain — Connor’s twin brother — thought he walked on a 3-1 pitch then struck out swinging. His complaint to the umpire got him ejected from the game.
The Thunderbirds continued to rally as Daniel Loveall walked to load the bases and Nolan Kinnett walked to force in a run. The Thunderbirds’ designated hitter, Jacob Hauger, flied out to deep center to end the inning.
But coach Craig Grow had to replace his left fielder. The replacement made an error after a Linton base-hit to lead off the sixth, causing a close play at second base that went in Linton’s favor. Connor Strain then was ejected by a base umpire for something he said.
With a new pitcher in the game for North Central, Linton took advantage, scoring four in the seventh to turn their 4-1 lead into an 8-1 lead.
The Thunderbirds had the top of their batting order coming up in the seventh inning, and Collin Harding led off the inning with a solo home run.
Grow was proud to coach a group of seven North Central seniors that includes Zach Lyday, Nate Lyday, Johnson, Connor and Tyler Strain, Loveall and Dillon Jewell. The Thunderbirds won more than 60 games over the past three seasons, and lost in a one-run game to Lafayette Central Catholic in the Class A state championship game last season.
“They’ve got to look back and look at the accomplishments they’ve and had and some day they can look back and get over this loss,” Grow said. “A lot of congratulations to those guys, we just didn’t hit the ball the way we have in the past. Up until that last inning, we were only down 4-1, and had some guys coming up. Just very, very tough loss.”
Linton 8, North Central 2
Linton ab r h bi N.Central ab r h bi
Taylor ss 3 3 2 0 Harding cf 3 1 1 1
Neff 2b 4 1 3 5 Z.Lyday ss-p 4 1 1 0
Butler p 3 1 1 0 C.Strain p 3 0 1 0
Bl.Eaton 1b 4 0 1 2 Boyll 2b 0 0 0 0
Helton cf 3 0 1 0 Johnson c 4 1 1 0
Vowell c 4 0 0 0 N.Lyday 2b-ss 1 0 0 0
Jackson 3b 3 0 0 0 T.Strain lf 1 0 0 0
Shelton pr 0 0 0 0 Copeland 1 0 0 0
Burgess dh 4 0 0 0 Loveall 3b 1 0 0 0
Be.Eaton lf 2 3 2 0 Kinnett 1b 2 0 0 1
Haugher dh 3 0 1 0
Lewis pr 0 0 0 0
Totals 33 8 11 7 Totals 23 2 5 2
Linton 002 020 4 — 8
North Central 000 001 1 — 2
Butler (W, 7-4) and Vowell; C. Strain (L) and Johnson.
Highlights — For Linton, Abe Neff had a double, 5 RBI and was 3-for-4;
Jewell, Johnson. LOB — L 4, NC 7. HR — Harding (1). 2B — Neff. SH — T.Strain. CS — N.Lyday.
Linton IP H R ER BB K
Butler (W, 7-4) 6 5 1 1 7 12
Jackson 1 1 1 1 2 1
North Central IP H R ER BB K
Strain (L) 6 6 4 4 1 9
Z.Lyday 1 4 4 4 0 2
PB — Johnson 2.
Next — North Central finished its season 20-6. Linton (13-15) plays the winner of the Class 2A Southridge Sectional on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Class 2A Southridge Regional.