NAPPANEE – The best was saved for last in the 2015 IHSAA Baseball Sectional 21 Tournament at NorthWood High School. Five days of win or go home action drew to a close Monday night with a spectacular championship game between two Northern Lakes Conference foes.
Even though NorthWood played visitor on its own field the Panthers were unfazed on their way to clinching their third consecutive sectional title with a 3-1 win over Wawasee.
The key to the Panther’s victory may have been their hot start in a game that lacked any true big innings. Chad Sellers got things going for the “visitors” in the top of the first with a two-out single. Vincent Herschberger followed that up with an RBI double and was later batted in on a single from Brock Beehler to give NorthWood the early 2-0 lead.
After the exciting opening from the Panthers, the game was a defensive struggle from there on out highlighted by great plays across the field from both teams. Wawasee had a pair of breaks go against it in the top of the sixth despite excellent effort on defense.
Two questionable calls went against the Warriors in the sixth. The first involved NorthWood’s Tanner Cleveland and a diving Gage Reinhard of Wawasee at first base where Cleveland was called safe. Later in the inning Cleveland would score a controversial run that some thought should not have counted as it appeared Cleveland crossed home after the third out was recorded at second by the Warriors.
The Warriors got their first leadoff hit of the evening in the sixth inning from Drew Anderson, but a poor jump on a steal attempt cost Wawasee that base runner. The Warriors finally got on the board in that same frame as Gage Reinhard scored on an RBI single from Caleb Dingeldein. Wawasee left two stranded in the sixth and were left wondering “what if” after having Anderson picked off.
“It was a fake bunt and steal that we had on,” Wawasee head coach Brent Doty said of the sixth inning mishap. “We were trying to delay Cleveland from making another great throw from behind the plate like he did earlier. I think Drew just got a bad jump, it was just one of those things. We’ve been good on the bases all year. It was just one of those things.”
NorthWood threatened yet again in the top of the seventh but an excellent throw from Anderson in centerfield sniped Andrew Minnich who was trying to get to third with two outs. The “wow factor” that Anderson’s throw implemented cannot be properly described, but it did not affect NorthWood or Panther starting pitcher Vincent Miranda in the end.
Miranda pitched a complete game and retired the Warriors in order in the seventh to clinch the win for his team. Neither Miranda nor Wawasee starter Aaron Voirol walked a batter all night and both pitchers went all seven innings for their respective team. Voirol is one of 13 seniors graduating from Wawasee’s team, a group that has helped Doty lay a foundation for his program in just his second year on the job.
“I’ve got two young kids,” Doty began when asked about his senior class, “and I told every one of those seniors that if my kids turned out like them that I would be the happiest dad in the world. I’m so proud of those guys, of the men that they are, not just of who they are on the field.”
Wawasee finishes the season at 12-14. NorthWood, now 23-3, will play Heritage in the second semifinal game of the Class 3-A Bellmont Regional this Saturday.