NAPPANEE — If A.J. Risedorph ever quits the coaching business, he might consider a career as a psychic medium. He certainly called Tuesday’s walk-off, anyway.
With NorthWood and visiting Elkhart Central tied up at 7-all in the bottom of the seventh, Matt Dutkowski ripped a lead-off double to the fence in right-center, and Jaden Miller followed suit with a hard liner up the middle to lift the Panthers to a thrilling, 8-7 win. Perhaps even more impressive than those back-to-back two-baggers was Risedorph’s prognostication of them.
“He’s swinging it so well right now,” said the NorthWood skipper of Miller. “I told him, I go ‘Hey, Dut’s going to get on. He’s going to get a double, and you’re just going to trade places with him, simple as that.’ And, sure enough, that’s what ended up happening. That’s just fundamental baseball from that standpoint and how we want to play.”
The Panthers jumped on their guests early with runs in each of the first two innings, then appeared to break the game open at 6-0 during a four-run third featuring doubles from Dutkowski and Josh Stratford. The Blue Blazers answered back with an even bigger, seven-run fourth, however.
A pair of infield errors sandwiched around a walk loaded the bases with none out, and NorthWood starter Alec Holcomb began to show signs of fatigue against the bottom of the Central order. Brady Markel, Brennan Harrington and Alex Rasler cranked out consecutive singles before Holcomb began to wiggle off the hook fanning Justin Crook and Jared Miller. Brycen Sherwood and Jake Shreiner drove in three more runs with back-to-back singles before Holcomb could get out of the big inning striking out Patrick Yeakey, leaving Central with a sudden, 7-6 advantage.
“I took my visit when he had 16 pitches and no outs, and during that time, that’s when we had the couple errors and they strung a couple hits together, too. Bottom line is we teach trying to get outs in 15 pitches or less. Anytime a pitcher goes past 15 he’s going to be more susceptible to making mistakes, and that’s what we saw in that inning,” explained Risedorph. “Even though we weren’t making the errors in that latter half, we were leaving some pitches up, and that just goes with being tired. Even our bullpen sessions we don’t have guys going out there throwing 30 pitches. We have them take 12 to 15, take a break, come back out. So that’s always tough on a pitcher. We’ve just got to be more fundamental, keep putting pressure on them. We cannot relax, even in a six-nothing ballgame. We’ve just got to continue to make that next play regardless of the score.”
The Panthers manufactured a run in the fifth on the legs of Sergio Lira Ayala, who reached on a swinging bunt back to the mound, took second on a wild pitch and scored from second when Shreiner’s pick-off throw sailed into the outfield to tie the game up at 7-7.
“As a sophomore, I feel like I’m coaching a senior, a guy that’s been around the game a long time. Sergio is a special kid, and that’s just heads-up baseball for him to put pressure on the pitcher, make him pay attention to him and then — like we always say — throw us a triple but end up getting us around to home,” Risedorph said.
Dutkowski got the pitching win relieving Holcomb in the fifth and surrendering just one hit and one walk over three efficient innings. Holcomb finished the night with six strikeouts versus only one walk. He surrendered six hits and gave up seven runs, but only two of them were earned.
NorthWood collected eight hits to Central’s seven, and a full six of those were doubles, including two by Dutkowski, who finished the night with three RBIs.
“We focus a lot on trying to get into the gaps and these alleys. Our field is quite large so when you can get into the gap, you can find a way to get that double, and the other night even against West Noble we found opportunities to turn those doubles into triples because all it takes is one misstep, one read,” said Risedoprh. “The turf is still pretty rough right now. We don’t want to take anything for granted, and we coach all the time that we need guys to get out of the box, turn singles into doubles if we can. We’ve got to be aggressive and put pressure on them.”
Central slips to an even 2-2 with the loss, while Wood improves to 3-2 with its second straight win. The Panthers play host to Fairfield Friday night at 5 p.m.
“We treated the first three games before spring break and these three games as like our spring training. We’re trying to feel as a staff where we like guys in the lineup, what our approaches are defensively,” explained Risedorph. “There are still guys down at the JV game that, even though they’re putting time in down there, they’re looking to crack in our lineup down here. We just don’t want to push it so early. So there’s a lot of competition that we’re still looking at here early. Yeah, we got two great wins here, but there’s always learning involved. That’s something that we want to continue to do as we go into a very competitive Fairfield team that, I think they’re 5-0, 6-0 right now and number 12 in 3A. They’re putting it on people right now so we have a great match-up Friday to take us into our conference season, which is when our season really starts for us.”