SYRACUSE – There was no way James Hackworth was going to be denied a sectional championship his senior season.
There was no denying in his mind either that the Tippecanoe Valley ace was going to finish what he started Monday night in the sectional finale.
Hackworth, in fitting fashion, fanned the final five NorthWood batters he faced as the Vikings were not denied in topping the Panthers 7-2 to win the Class 3-A Wawasee Sectional title.
The Viking lefty, who will pitch at Indiana State, made things all right all night long as Valley claimed its fifth sectional title. The Vikings had won the sectional crown in 2009 and 2010 before being upended by West Noble in first-round sectional play a year ago as NorthWood went on to win the championship. Valley avenged that loss by beating the Chargers 9-2 in the first semifinal contest Monday morning.
Valley (16-9) advances to the Bellmont Regional Saturday for an 11 a.m. semifinal game versus Hamilton Heights (19-9). The second game pits Bellmont (22-8) versus No. 3 Leo. The championship game for a regional title and a berth in the June 9 semi state at either Kokomo or South Bend Clay is set for 8 p.m. Saturday at Bellmont.Hackworth saved his best for last Monday in a three-hit, 15-strikeout, one-walk, one-hit batter masterpiece. He fanned the final two Panther hitters of the sixth inning after allowing a two-run single and then threw just 12 pitches in the final frame in striking out the 7, 8 and 9 batters in the NorthWood lineup.
“I was thinking about taking James out for that seventh and he told me he wanted to finish,” said Valley coach Ryan Moore. “When you have a James Hackworth on the mound, it gives a team that extra confidence. You feel like nothing can go wrong.
“There was no doubt today this team wanted to win a championship. They came out and played like it. They showed up and everyone played well for us. I’m excited to move on to the regional. Let’s go Saturday.”
Hackworth, who helped his own cause by belting a 380-foot solo blast to right center to start a four-run third inning, was going to seal the deal in the seventh no matter what. The hard-throwing southpaw had his “normal” game Monday as he entered sectional play with a 0.33 ERA and an average of more than two strikeouts per inning pitched.
“I wanted it bad,” said Hackworth, who allowed just the two unearned runs and threw 110 pitches in the stifling heat. “This is my senior year and I wanted to win that third sectional. My curve was a little off today, but I was able to work my fastball in and out. Everything worked great out there for the most part. We just need to keep the mentality going that we have at regional. Everyone has stepped up offensively for us and we’re just playing sold ball. It has to stay that way.”
The Vikings gave Hackworth plenty of support Monday. Valley took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on singles by Tanner Andrews and Brody Andrews, a hit batter and a fielder’s choice by Kameron Larimer.
Valley stretched its lead to 5-0 in the fourth with a four-spot in the frame. Hackworth crushed his third homer of the season to make it 2-0. Brody Andrews followed with a double before Larimer added an RBI double and Dan Miller a two-run single. The Vikings added single runs in both the fifth and sixth innings on RBI singles by Jacob Ritchey and Larimer respectively.Hackworth allowed just an infield single to Panther leadoff man Tanner Roberts in the third on a bang-bang play after a slow bouncer to short through the first five innings. The Panthers avoided the shutout in the sixth after Hackworth had struck out the side in the fifth. A Valley error was followed by a single by Brock Spitaels. Chad Ervin then smoked a two-run single with one out right past Hackworth’s head to make it 7-2.
Hackworth struck out every hitter in the NorthWood lineup at least once. He had two or more strikeouts in six of the game’s seven innings.
The Valley offense got production up and down its order as the champions produced 12 hits with eight of the nine starters contributing hits.
Seniors Hackworth, Brody Andrews and Larimer each had two hits, as did junior Dan Miller.
NorthWood, which beat Lakeland 7-1 in the second semifinal game Monday, finishes 20-9.