GOSHEN – A pair of strong right arms made everything all right in the end for the NorthWood baseball team Wednesday night.
Those of Matt Dutkowski and Jaden Miller made the championship difference for the Panthers.
The Panthers got a premier pitching performance from Dutkowski and a dazzling defensive play from Miller to turn back host Goshen 2-1 in a huge Northern Lakes Conference contest at Phend Field.
NorthWood, which scored both of its runs on wild pitches in the sixth and seventh innings, earns a share of the NLC crown at 11-3 to wrap up league play. The Panthers ran the table in the NLC at 14-0 a year ago to claim the outright conference title.
The Class 3-A No. 8 ranked Panthers, who now stand at 18-4 overall, share the NLC championship with Plymouth.
The Pilgrims, who blanked NorthWood 3-0 Monday night on a one-hitter, beat Northridge 8-7 Wednesday night to also finish 11-3. Plymouth scored four runs in the home half of the ninth inning to rally past the Raiders. The game was tied at 4-4 before Northridge scored three times in the top of the ninth frame.
Goshen finishes at 10-4 in league play. The RedHawks, who were trying to win their first league title in 20 years, fall to 17-8 overall.
NorthWood, a veteran team loaded with a stellar senior class, got outstanding efforts from a pair of underclassmen to earn the championship in the NLC finale for both teams.
Junior Dutkowski fired a three-hit complete game gem on the hill for the Panthers. The right-hander allowed just three straight hits to open the second inning to fall behind 1-0 as Goshen scored on an RBI double by Joey Peebles.
Dutkowski was clutch from there. The RedHawks did not score despite having runners on second and third with no outs. Dutkiowski got a groundout to shortstop Sawyer Warren and then the play of the game.
Dutkowski got outstanding glove work from his teammates behind him all game long. The biggest and best play of the night though came on a rocket throw from sophomore right fielder Miller. He fired a strike to home plate for an inning ending double play in the second inning to keep the Panthers down just 1-0. Miller’s outstanding throw to the dish and a fine diving tag by senior catcher Hunter Warren retired Jack Immel trying to tag from third on the play.
“Jaden has been DHing for us lately and has not played right field in while,” noted NorthWood coach AJ Risedorph. “He was playing outfield at the start of the season and then we went to some other guys out there. He’s just worked his tail off to earn his spot back. And for him to make that kind of throw for us was just big tonight. It was a huge play.”
The Panthers hit the ball hard for five innings with nothing to show for it except an infield hit and a single off Goshen senior Peebles. NorthWood then executed big time in the final two frames to cash in as Goshen opened the door. Senior Sawyer Warren opened the sixth with a bloop single to left center. Senior Brant Mast then put down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Warren to second and Dutkowski grounded out with Warren taking third. Warren then raced home on a wild pitch on a 1-2 pitch to make it 1-1.
NorthWood grabbed the lead in its final at-bat. Hunter Warren reached on a dropped third strike to open the final frame. Junior Kyler Hauptli then put down a sacrifice bunt to move Warren to second. Warren then took third on a Goshen infield error and scored with one out on a wild pitch for the 2-1 lead.
Dutkowski then got a pair of groundouts to third baseman Hauptli and the final out on a popout to second baseman Mast to retire Goshen in their final at-bat.
Dutkowski was superb after settling down in the second. He retired the final 17 Goshen hitters of the game, getting the hosts out 1-2-3 in the final five innings.
“My defense was great behind me tonight,” said Dutkowski. “It’s easy for me to trust them. They have been making plays all year. I just wanted to reset and come back and throw strikes after those three straight hits and let my defense work.
“Jaden just made a great throw to keep it at 1-0. That was a big play. A momentum swing and a confidence builder for us. To win the NLC means a lot. It’s a tough conference. Coach has preached all week how much time and effort our seniors have put into the pgoram.”
Risedorph, in his first season, got the customary water cooler shower from his celebrating team during his postgame interview session.
“Regardless of the result tonight, I would have walked away from here happy,” Risedorph said. “It would have been the first loss this year that I felt good about because of our energy and how we played. It was a great game. Goshen deserved it as much as we did.
“We took advantage of the little things and did what we had to do to make things happen. That’s baseball. We got down huge bunts from Brant and Kyler and we moved runners when we had to. Their pitcher was unreal. He just peppered the strike zone the whole night.”
Goshen coach Josh Keister, whose team won 12-5 at NorthWood back on April 30 pointed to Miller’s throw as the pivotal play.
“The play of the game was that throw their right fielder made to end the second inning,” said Keister. “That was just an outstanding throw. A championship game comes down to one big play many times and that was the one. It’s a much different feeling and a different game I think if we score there and it’s 2-0.
“Credit NorthWood. They did not panic down 1-0. Their pitcher threw extremely well and they played good defense. It was a well played baseball game and certainly well pitched on both sides. It came down to a couple of little things and to NorthWood’s credit they made the plays to win.”
Dutkowski had five strikeouts and one walk. Peebles, one of seven Goshen seniors who were honored prior to the game, had four strikeouts and no walks.
NorthWood played errorless baseball, while Goshen had two miscues.
Goshen won the junior varsity game 4-3.
NorthWood plays at South Bend St. Joe Friday and at Culver Academy Saturday. The Panthers then face Angola on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Class 3-A Lakeland Sectional. NorthWood has won five straight sectional championships.
Goshen plays at Penn Friday, at Jimtown Saturday and hosts Mishawaka Monday. The RedHawks then play Elkhart Central next Thursday at 5 p.m. in the Class 4-A Penn Sectional.