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June 7, 2014

Terre Haute North baseball cruises into semistate final

Patriots play Class 4A No. 1 Cathedral tonight

AVON — It wasn’t as easy as it initially appeared it would be, and the same kind of help was unlikely to be available later in the day.

But Terre Haute North’s 12-5 high school baseball win over New Castle on Saturday afternoon in the Class 4A Avon Semistate at least gave the Patriots a chance to knock off the top-ranked team in the state.

North played Indianapolis Cathedral, an 11-1 winner over Ben Davis earlier Saturday, in the championship game.

Cathedral’s advancement to the title game seemed inevitable after the Irish took advantage of an emotional Ben Davis pitcher, and became assured when the Irish scored seven runs in the last two innings.

North’s win was looking even simpler early in the second semifinal game. North had four runs after its first four batters and added three runs without a hit in the second inning.

But even though the Patriots scored in every inning against the Trojans, it wasn’t a game their offense was very proud of, final score notwithstanding.

“We left about 12 men [actually 10] on base and you can’t do that,” North coach Shawn Turner said afterward. “So while I commend our guys, who did a great job of getting on base, we seemed like we were always one pitch away from blowing the game open and yet we let New Castle hang around.”

North’s four quick first-inning runs came in unusual fashion and contributed to maybe the worst day of the season for New Castle pitcher Grant Malott.

Malott had singled in the top of the first inning but was thrown out trying to steal by catcher T.J. Collett — the first time Mallott had been caught stealing this season, according to the New Castle stat sheet.

And after Jonathan Eilbracht reached on an error to start the bottom of the first, Malott first was unable to make a play on Zach Milam’s topped roller, tumbling to the ground in the attempt, and then couldn’t find the bag on Collett’s grounder to the right side. Both those plays went for infield hits, Collett getting an RBI, and then Nathan Will hit what looked like a routine fly to left.

That’s where the wind was Saturday, however, and the Trojan outfielder kept going backward until he ran out of room. Will’s homer had North up 4-0.

“Definitely not,” Will said after the game when asked if he’d expected a homer on that swing. “It carried a lot further than I thought.”

With one out in the bottom of the second, Malott got a strike on Austin Turner before suddenly losing command. His next 12 pitches were out of the strike zone, walking Eilbracht and Milam as well, bringing Collett to the plate with the bases loaded.

A run-scoring wild pitch enabled Collett to get a full-count intentional walk, but another wild pitch and walks to Cody Maloon and Chase Jones brought two more runs in. It was 7-0, although North left the bases loaded.

New Castle’s offense came to life in the top of the third with a pair of one-out hits from the eighth and ninth hitters in the batting order. The Patriots failed to turn a double play, a two-out hit batter kept the inning alive, and Malott had a three-run double. Another hit and a wild pitch cut the lead to 7-4 and the Patriots still weren’t swinging the bat well.

“I think that was [the Trojans’] game plan, to make us hit their pitch,” Shawn Turner said. “We didn’t bite [on pitches off the plate], but that also took us out of our aggressive mindset.”

With two out in the bottom of the third, Eilbracht finally hit North’s first line drive, and he came around to score on a walk to Milam, a bases-loading intentional walk to Collett and an unintended walk to Will. That made three runs in as many innings for Eilbracht.

“I just have to get on base — Zach [Milam] too — so T.J. doesn’t have to get walked,” the senior second baseman explained of his role.

Starting pitcher Austin Hicks got back in the groove in the top of the fourth — his last inning of the first game, as it turned out — and North added another run in the bottom of the inning when Lane Dransfield singled, stole second on a pickoff attempt and scored on a grounder and an error.

Austin Massey pitched three hitless — if not uneventful — innings to get a save, although a hit batter, a walk and a throwing error enabled the Trojans to score for a final time.

And North continued to score, twice in the fifth — hits by Will, Maloon and Jones and a wild pitch — and once in the sixth on the season’s strangest double play.

Eilbracht and Milam had opened that inning with singles but were still at first and second when Collett — on a day when the sophomore actually seemed human — popped up. Will’s grounder to third resulted in a tag play on Eilbracht, but the throw to first got away far enough for Milam to score — just ahead of Will being thrown out trying to get to third.

After a superhuman sectional week, Collett’s not-at-all-bad day seemed uncharacteristic, but his teammates weren’t worried.

“They all know their roles,” Eilbracht said of the Patriots, “so if T.J. doesn’t do his [usual] job, they step up.”

“We started off pretty well,” Will said. “It wasn’t our best game, but it was a win — and we’re already thinking about [Cathedral].”

“It’ll be a challenge,” Eilbracht added.

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