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May 10, 2014

North takes 2-0 Big Four baseball record into Monday's action

Vikings, Braves could still take title

TERRE HAUTE — High school baseball teams from Terre Haute North and host Terre Haute South had to overcame other things in addition to Northview and West Vigo in Big Four competition Saturday, both coaches agreed.

Each other.

Despite shaky starts by both winners, the Patriots finally outlasted the Knights 9-4 and the Braves overcame the Vikings 6-2.

“It’s been hard [in Big Four history] giving the same effort [on Saturday morning] after back-to-back games against your rival,” noted coach Shawn Turner of North, which split its games against South on Thursday and Friday.

“It’s tough for the kids to play big rival games, then try to get ready to play another game,” coach Kyle Kraemer of the Braves agreed nearly three hours later.

Thanks to Saturday’s abbreviated schedule, Big Four baseball still has another day to go. The North-South game on Friday was the one that counted in Big Four play, so the Patriots are 2-0 and can be undisputed champions by winning at West Vigo on Monday.

If West Vigo wins, there could be a three-way tie — if South wins a home game Monday against Northview — or the Vikings could win via head-to-head competition with North if Northview beats the Braves. Tiebreakers in a three-way tie are runs allowed first, then runs scored.

How important the Big Four title is to its coaches has always been debatable: none of them want to lose, of course, but delving into the depths of their pitching staffs for meaningful games isn’t something they always want to do either.

The players may have a different attitude.

“I want to win it,” sophomore outfielder Brett Herndon of North said emphatically after his team’s win Saturday. “It would mean a lot to me.” And Herndon, as much as anyone, was there to rescue the Patriots from themselves in Saturday’s opener.

With the Patriots trailing 4-3 in the top of the fourth inning, Herndon had a leadoff single that blossomed into the tying run after he stole second, took third on Austin Turner’s bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly by Jonathan Eilbracht.

Virtually the same scenario took place in the top of the sixth. Herndon singled, stole a base, took third on another Austin Turner sacrifice and scored when Eilbracht smashed the ball off an infielder’s glove. That error loomed larger later in the inning, when a two-out, two-run single by Nathan Will and a two-run homer by Chase Jones quickly took the lead from 5-4 to 9-4.

“I just try to hit the ball, make contact,” Herndon said when asked about his leadoff strategy later.

“Brett Herndon is an amazing young man,” coach Turner said. “He’s enthusiastic, he has a lot of ability … if he matures the way we think he’s capable of, he has a bright future ahead of him on and off the field.”

The Patriots looked to be on their way to an easy win in the top of the first when an error, run-scoring doubles by Zach Milam and Jones and an infield out gave them a quick 3-0 lead.

The advantage was quickly relinquished. The first three Northview batters in the bottom of the inning were walked, walked and hit by a pitch, and the Knights tied the score on the first of Jake Harden’s three hits, a run-scoring grounder and a double-play ball.

North had the bases loaded with one out in the top of the second following the second of four walks — and the first of two intentional passes — to T.J. Collett, but Nathan Will’s line drive was turned into an unassisted double play.

Northview then had a run in with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the inning — “We struggled on the mound a little bit,” coach Turner admitted later — on a walk plus singles by Joe Ball, Bo Stewart and Harden. The Patriots were uncanny with their relief choices Saturday, however, and Nick Long came in to induce a quick double play to end the inning. North also got out of a second-and-third, one-out situation in the fourth when a second reliever got an immediate twin killing.

“In the beginning, we fought back really well,” coach Craig Trout of the Knights said later, “but the frustration sets in when you’re leaving so many runners on base.”

It was a frustrating week all around for the Knights, who lost three straight games in which they appeared to have the upper hand. They also failed to cash in on scoring chances Saturday in the fifth and sixth innings.

“Timely hits are the overall thing,” Trout said. “We’ve had enough bad breaks lately; we deserve some good breaks.”

West Vigo jumped on top in the second game, Davie Inman leading off with an opposite-field homer and the Vikings adding a second first-inning run on a walk, an error and two hit batters. The Vikings, however, left the bases loaded.

South got a run back in the bottom of the inning on Jacob Johnson’s bunt single and a two-out RBI single by Austin Slover, then rallied with two out in the bottom of the second to tie the game on a wind-blown double by Zach Donnelly and an RBI single by Johnson. This time it was the Braves who left the bases loaded.

The two young starting pitchers, South’s Grant Ellis and West Vigo’s Wyatt Lowe, settled down after that and the game was still 2-2 going into the bottom of the fifth. Then Lowe yielded his only walk of the game and South turned that into a pair of runs thanks to another hit by Slover, a sacrifice fly by Mitch Clinkenbeard and a Viking error.

Two more errors — and run-scoring hits by Donnelly and Justin Jenkins — made it 6-2 in the bottom of the sixth, and the Vikings loaded the bases to no avail in the top of the seventh.

“Tip of the hat to [Ellis]; he threw a good ballgame,” coach Culley DeGroote of West Vigo said afterward. “We did some good things, but we stranded too many [11 left on base], and you can’t make [five] errors.

“Wyatt Lowe deserved to win, but Terre Haute South continued to put the ball in play and put pressure on us. They’re a good ballclub; their lineup is the best we’ve seen.”

“We left a pitch up and the leadoff batter takes it to the opposite field, then we don’t turn two on a routine grand ball,” Kraemer said in discussing Ellis’s outing. “It wasn’t his fault in the first inning, and he’s a sophomore; he’ll learn.”

Offensively, Kraemer indicated he didn’t mind his team getting a little help. “It’s very uncharacteristic of a West Vigo team to have that many errors,” he said.

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