SOUTH WHITLEY – Sometimes you just have to make a statement.
The NorthWood baseball team won 16 games and a share of the Northern Lakes Conference title in the regular season, both feats say a lot of what they team is capable of, but a new challenge awaits the Panthers. NorthWood started its road to postseason glory on Thursday night when it took on Tippecanoe Valley in the first round of the IHSAA Class 3A Sectional 21 Tournament at Whitko High School.
NorthWood could very well be considered the favorite of the tournament field and proved why in its first sectional contest. The Panthers used a 10-run fourth inning to help claim a 13-5 win over the Vikings.
Six Panther hits and four Viking errors fueled the big inning for the home team. The majority of the runs came with two outs on the board. The more the Panthers hit the ball, the worse it became for Valley.
While the Vikings certainly made some mistakes in the frame, NorthWood did a superb job of simply hitting the ball in the gaps and used smart base running to take full advantage of the gaffes by its opponent. The Panthers finally piled on enough runs to claim and even bigger victory by forcing Viking starting pitcher Tanner Andrews out of the game.
Even after the new pitcher, Eric Hammer, was brought into the game the Panthers continued to hit the ball everywhere but to a Valley defender. Tanner Farmwald, Vincent Miranda, Dominic Miranda, Hunter Lane, Kyle McCoy, Blake Cleveland, William Kirkwood, Tanner Cleveland, and Chad Sellers all scored in the inning for NorthWood, with Farmwald being the only player to cross the plate twice in the frame.
“I told the guys it was a freak of an inning,” said Valley head coach Brandon Cody. “You’ll never see, or hardly see something like that again. Tanner (Andrews) really pitched a great game for us, he pitched outs. That’s just a freak inning.”
Things seemed to be going well for Valley early on as Drake Hyden smashed a three-run home run in the top of the first inning, scoring Andrews and Luke Helton to give the Vikings a 3-0 lead. But despite the big swing in momentum early on, NorthWood was undeterred.
The Vikings added two more runs in the top of the fifth with Alec Craig crossing home on a throwing error. Andrews scored once more for Valley on a sacrifice fly from Tommy Alexander. Kaiser Schwartz gave the Panthers one more insurance run in the bottom of the fifth.
Craig, Andrews, Hammer, Jared Littlejohn and Isaac Shewman all had hits for the Vikings on Thursday night.
“We’re still a young team,” Cody stated. “We definitely made mistakes out there today and the cost us the game, but we can learn from that. We only have three seniors and our guys will be playing summer ball so next year we will make those plays and hope to get further in the tournament.
“I’m proud of the adjustments this team made this year. Even the adjustments that our guys have made from our last regular season game to today’s game have been good. The season ended sooner than we wanted but it was still a good year and I’m proud of our guys.”
Valley finishes the season at 15-12. NorthWood (17-5) will play at 1:30 p.m. in the semifinals against the winner of the Whitko v. Lakeland game, being played on Friday night. Wawasee(11-15), which advanced over West Noble on Wednesday, will take on Fairfield (19-7) in Saturday’s first semifinal. starting at 11 a.m.