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May 23, 2013

North baseball pulls away from South in sectional opener

22-6 Patriots end Braves season at 22-8

TERRE HAUTE — In high school baseball little things mean a lot, and the crack in the door doesn’t have to be open very wide.

Terre Haute North burst through that crack in the bottom of the second inning Wednesday evening at Terre Haute South, scoring seven two-out runs — all unearned — and going on to a surprisingly easy 12-2 victory over the host Braves in Class 4A sectional action.

North returns to South at 10 a.m. Monday for a semifinal game against the winner of Wednesday’s lightning-interrupted nightcap between Martinsville and Mooresville. Northview and Plainfield meet in the second semifinal game that day, with the championship game at 6 p.m.

Pre-tournament records might indicate the championship game was the sectional’s first one, and for awhile it looked like the host team — visitor on the scoreboard — was in charge.

Justin Jenkins led off the game with a single, took second when Preston Tofaute was hit by a pitch and scored on a hit by Pete Lannoo. In the top of the second, Conner Shipley singled with two out and raced home easily when Jenkins laced a line drive to the fence in right-center for a double.

Nathan Will led off the bottom of the second inning for North by beating out an infield hit, South shortstop Jacob Johnson coming within an eyelash of making the defensive play of the year. Lane Dransfield followed with a check-swing dribbler down the first-base line, and that too went for an infield hit.

Two fielder’s choice grounders set up a first-and-third, two-out situation, and a South error kept the inning alive and allowed the first run to score.

The door was open.

Gabe Sevigny followed with a line shot to left-center for a two-run double. Zach Milam singled for an RBI, taking second on the throw home. T.J. Collett launched a towering homer to right-center. Sam Wolf doubled to the opposite field. Will singled again, driving Wolf home.

The lead was 7-2, and North had its ace Austin Hicks on the mound.

“I was just trying to put the bat on the ball and drive it up the middle,” said Milam after a 4-for-4 day that included three RBIs and two shots that just missed undressing two different South pitchers. “We were really focused coming in, and that gave Hicksie a good lead. He’s pretty good with a lead.”

South got two runners on with one out in the top of the third, but Hicks got out of that jam and allowed just a walk and an infield hit the rest of the way.

North got a run in the third on a two-out, bases-loaded wild pitch; got three more with two out in the fourth, Milam driving in two and Collett the other; and got the game-ending 10-run advantage the next inning on a pinch-hit single by senior Nick Norton.

“Coach [Shawn Turner] knows I hit the ball pretty hard,” said Norton, whose hit was set up by a one-out bunt to put the decisive run in scoring position. “This was the first time in my life I got a game-winning hit.”

Hicks, whose 10-inning, 141-pitch outing was the story when the Braves and Patriots played their two-game Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference series, wasn’t disappointed to be limited to five innings and just 75 pitches this time.

“I like it better this way,” he said. “Our offense just hit the ball. We’re catching fire at the right time; one through nine [in the batting order] are hitting the ball.”

“North is a good ballclub; give them credit,” coach Kyle Kraemer of the Braves said afterward. “For most of two innings, we had it where we wanted it … but you can’t make mistakes against a good team like North.”

“We had to take a punch,” Turner said. “South’s got a great team; for us to withstand those first two innings says a lot about our team.”

The game will be a tough last memory for South’s team, particularly its seniors, Kraemer feared.

“You can’t take anything away from the kids. Twenty-two wins, a MIC championship … unfortunately what those seniors will probably remember is getting 10-runned at home more than the wins or the conference championship.”

The Patriots can enjoy going farther in the tournament than the Braves for the first time in at least seven years. Turner wasn’t worrying about that stat Wednesday, however.

“We’re 1-0 in tournament play this year,” he said. “That’s all that matters.”

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