NAPPANEE – The script seemed to write itself.
Sawyer Warren wrote the latest chapter in what is becoming quite a storied NorthWood baseball season, and did it on a special night for the Warren family and the Panther baseball program. Warren cracked a three-run double to put his team up 5-3 in the bottom of the sixth in what became the eventual final score over Elkhart Memorial on a day when the two teams held a Strike Out Cancer game.
The theme of the game circulated around Sawyer and twin brother Hunter’s sister-in-law, Lauren, who passed away from mesothelioma in February. NorthWood head coach AJ Risedorph decided before the season to link a game with the Jason Motte Foundation and the Strike Out Cancer theme, which raises money on a national level for cancer outreaches of all kinds. Needing a big hit in a big spot, it seemed fitting that Sawyer ripped the first pitch he saw in the sixth into the right-center field gap, taking a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 lead with one swing of the bat.
“I was wanting myself to be in that situation,” Sawyer said of his hit. “As soon as I hit it, I knew it was in the gap. I knew it was going to be big.”
Even the even-keeled Panther skipper Risedorph was three-quarters of the way down the line willing Jaden Miller to score the fifth run, and a pump of the fist capped the special moment. Risedorph, who turned to a group of Panther fans along the gate after the hit, said, “You can’t make that stuff up. Unbelievable.”
“I don’t know if there ever will be,” said Risedorph of whether that moment in the sixth was the biggest of the season. Risedorph, who paused on a couple of occasions to collect himself, added, “With him on the mound, I was really anxious to see what he would be able to do for us just because of the emotion and what this game was going to mean to him and Hunter. For him to pick himself up after just a few plays that weren’t made behind him when we lost the lead.
“I told him, there is no better person for this to happen to with the bases loaded in this situation. You don’t have to rely upon anybody but yourself at this point. He just rips that one, and I don’t know if I have shown any more emotion than I did at that point.”
Sawyer had two hits and the three runs driven in and Hunter added a single in three plate appearances. The two were battery mates, Hunter catching Sawyer’s gem through five innings. Sawyer didn’t allow a hit until the fifth, but ran into trouble in the sixth. An error kept Memorial’s inning alive, and after a Dylan Rost double, Jordan Siddons beat out an infield single, getting a run in. Brad Melendez then ripped a two-run double, chasing Sawyer after 5.2 innings, all three of the Charger runs unearned.
Alec Holcomb would get the last out of the sixth to keep the game at 3-2, and would get the Chargers in order in the seventh to record the win.
“It’s not like it’s just this game, it’s an entire season that we’re doing this,” Hunter said. “It’s nice to bring some attention to it, nice to have a game to play for something, not just come out here and have fun.”
NorthWood used an RBI single from Holcomb and sacrifice fly from Matt Dutkowski to take a 2-0 lead. The Panthers loaded the bases in the sixth on a double from Kyler Hauptli and two walks to set up Sawyer’s hit. All five runs were charged to Nolan Grose, who gave up six hits and five walks in the contest.
The theatrics of the game were fine for Friday, which saw both teams come together in the pregame to display a unity banner. Memorial also noted it has raised over $250 on its own for the NorthWood cause. The Panthers announced afterwards it has raised over $7.500 and will continue throughout the remainder of its season.
“I think it’s just the passion that our guys have about this cause, I think they really have bought into it,” Risedorph said. “It’s cancer. It sucks. It affects everybody. I think when something that real affects that many people, and they see it and hear the story. Whether it’s Lauren. Whether it’s (Jacob) Raasch, (Jack) Wysong, they’ve all dealt with it. Even (Kyle) Sellers, he lost a grandparent to it.
“We are blessed to have some extremely generous people in our area and community and I’m blown away by it.”
The game itself was vital to the Panthers (17-3), which move to 10-2 in the Northern Lakes Conference standings, just a game ahead of Plymouth and 1.5 ahead of Goshen, coincidentally the final two teams on NorthWood’s schedule to wrap up the round robin next week.
“I feel like it really doesn’t even bother me,” Sawyer said of the added attention the Panthers are getting. “With last year, our team had so much attention to it, so it’s kind of normal. I feel like it kind of makes us play a little better. A little more sharp, a little more focused.”