News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports

May 31, 2014

Collett leads North into sectional finals

TERRE HAUTE — Credit Avon’s Orioles with boldness, if nothing else.

Coach Troy Drosche’s high school baseball team elected to pitch to Terre Haute North slugger T.J. Collett every time the sophomore catcher came to the plate in Saturday’s Class 4A Sectional 12 semifinal game at Terre Haute South, a strategy very few Patriot opponents have employed.

But because Oriole pitchers walked too many other people, Collett had enough runners on base to drive in five runs and help his team to a 7-5 win, one that was probably a little closer than it needed to be.

The Patriots return to South for Monday’s 6 p.m. championship game, playing the winner of Saturday’s late game between Brownsburg and Plainfield.

“[The Orioles] were going at me,” Collett said appreciatively after the game, “and they did a good job. They got me out in front [of the pitch] a couple of times.”

One of the times Collett said he was out in front, however, was the solo homer he hit in the bottom of the first — his 16th in what is now 73 official at-bats, a rather ridiculous ratio that explains why he sees so few pitches in the strike zone — and he added two-run singles in North’s other two scoring innings.

The first-inning blast tied the score, after Avon had used a hit batter, a sacrifice, a single and a ground out for a run in the top of the inning, but then the game settled into a tightly played pitchers’ duel between Avon’s Chandler Sanburn and North’s Greg Hannum until the bottom of the fourth.

A single by Cody Maloon and a double by Lane Dransfield opened that inning, putting two North runners in scoring position with no outs, but a fielder’s-choice grounder — on which Maloon was thrown out at the plate — and a strikeout put the Patriots on the verge of blowing a huge opportunity.

Then the game turned into giveaway for awhile.

Walks to Jonathan Eilbracht and Zach Milam not only forced in the lead run but brought Collett to the plate with the bases loaded. Although he got down in the count 0 and 2, he lashed a single to right that put North ahead 4-1.

Back-to-back errors followed by a hit by Sanburn loaded the bases for Avon in the top of the fifth, however, and brought a tough-luck end to Hannum’s mound stint. Reliever Tristan Pate came in and hit a batter with his first pitch, forcing in a run.

“There were a lot of people on base and I was just thinking how I could get out of that situation,” Pate said after the game. “After [hitting the batter], I was more determined to throw strikes down low.”

Pate gave up a one-out single that drove in two runs, and a third scored on an error on that play, North’s third of the inning. But the junior right-hander went on to retire the last eight batters he faced, striking out three of them.

North still trailed 5-4, however.

“The top of the fifth inning caused us some stress,” North coach Shawn Turner said after the game. “We didn’t play defensively behind Greg Hannum as well as we hoped or as well as we have done a lot of the year. Maybe we got a little tight; we were hesitant to come and get the ball, and that led to a big inning.

“I was glad to see our composure in the bottom [of the fifth],” the coach continued. “We had a positive inning, got the runs back and got ahead.”

Dransfield was hit by a pitch with one out in the bottom of the fifth, took second on a passed ball and scored from there as Nick Long reached on an error. Austin Turner got a redemptive hit, Eilbracht walked again to load the bases, and Collett’s two-out single drove in the winning runs.

“I think [the Orioles] probably figured that the top four guys in our lineup were the ones that could hurt them, and that’s probably the case,” Shawn Turner said later, “but they almost showed us [too much] respect, and our guys, to their credit, were very, very patient.”

The Patriots are looking forward to Monday night, and expecting to play better.

“It’s been hard [to get to the championship game],” Pate said, “but we’ve had a lot of hard work, good pitching, good defense and a lot of good offense.”

“We’ll be ready to go,” Collett promised, “but whoever wins [between Brownsburg and Plainfield] will be a really great team.”

“At this point, the season’s over if you don’t play your best,” Shawn Turner concluded.

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