ELKHART — Northridge really only had two productive innings at the plate in Saturday’s Elkhart Memorial semifinal with Warsaw. But those two were enough.
The Raiders plated four runs during a four-hit fourth, then collected six hits for five runs in the top of the seventh on the way to a 10-6 win over the Tigers. Ridge now advances to play Penn — which downed Goshen 12-3 Saturday morning — in Monday’s championship game, scheduled for 11 a.m.
The game was knotted at five runs apiece before Northridge’s big seventh. Approaching the pitch limit, Warsaw’s Joey Springer was pulled as the top of the Raiders’ order came to the plate for a fifth time. Ridge batters stayed hot first against southpaw reliever Jacob Hutcherson and then Drake Graham, collecting six hits — four of them doubles — to plate five runs in the decisive frame.
“We hit the ball hard all game, and a lot of them were just right at people. It was time some of those were going to go our way,” said Ridge head coach Andrew Brabender.
“Joey, he was getting close to the limit so we had to take him out, and they were starting to barrel some balls up on him. Jacob Hutcherson, he’s been throwing excellent for us in relief. Credit to Northridge, they hit the ball. But yeah, it definitely got away from us in the seventh inning,” said Warsaw coach Andy Manes.
Ridge jumped on top with a four-run second highlighted by a two-run shot from designated hitter Reece Lueking. It was one the Tigers would’ve definitely liked back in a sudden torrential downpour that swept through Elkhart. Just one at-bat later and the umpires called a rain delay that wound up lasting more than an hour and a half before play resumed with the Tigers trailing 4-0 still in the top of the second.
“It is what it is, at the end of the day. They had to hit it, but it’s tough to play with the rain blowing sideways,” said Manes of the second. “But they did a job.”
The rain delay seemed to take Ridge out of its game somewhat. Springer and the Warsaw defense got the final two outs, then scratched out a pair of runs off singles from Noah Burgh and Matthew Shoemaker, a sac fly from Springer and an RBI double from Hutcherson in the bottom half of the inning, cutting the Tigers’ deficit to two runs at 4-2. Ridge responded with another run in the top of the third, but Warsaw racked up four hits for three runs in the bottom of the third via an RBI double from Burgh and RBI singles by Springer and Hutcherson, making it a new game at 5-all.
“You’re never prepared for that. That’s not something as a coach and as a player you prepare for,” said Brabender of the rain delay. “You just don’t do it. I think that kind of took the wind out of our sails a little bit to be frank with you.”
Northridge starter Hayden Nickell got his team through 2 1/3 more innings holding the Tigers to five runs before Raiders ace Davis Enfield took over in the sixth. The Tigers did manage to hang a run on Enfield in the seventh, when Burgh coaxed a walk and eventually scored on a wild pitch. But it wasn’t enough to catch the Raiders.
“That’s what we told them. I’m like ‘There’s nothing to hang your heads about. We battled the whole way,’” Manes said “Even in that last inning, Enfield is a great pitcher, but we still had good at-bats, we got guys on base. A lot of teams, they would have just kind of mailed it in there — they would’ve just hung their heads and said ‘Hey, that’s it.’ But we kept battling to the very end.”
Warsaw closes the season at 11-16 and must say goodbye to nine seniors.
“We improved a lot. We had a long way to go. We still have a long way to go, but we showed improvement along the way. We had a rough start, but all I can ask from them is to go out and play hard every day,” Manes said.
“In baseball, you do your best, you play hard, and sometimes the other team is just going to beat you. That’s the game. I think they’re finally understanding that you’ve got to give it everything you’ve got every pitch and let the chips fall where they may.”
Ridge improves to 16-7 with the win. After throwing just 29 pitches Saturday, Enfield should be good to go against Penn in Monday’s championship, and the Raiders are going to need him.
“With Penn, you’re just going to have to match zeroes. They’ve got several really, really, good arms, and we’re just going to have to find a way to hang around and find a way to win.” said Brabender.