By Mike Deak
NAPPANEE – It was a scenario NorthWood hadn’t seen much this season. It’s a scene Panther head coach AJ Risedorph assures his team will see again.
Northridge mounted a big rally in the seventh inning, scoring six runs to stun NorthWood, 7-2, Friday evening in a huge game in the Northern Lakes Conference baseball race.
In an ugly seventh for the Panthers, it was pure gold for the Raiders. A pair of walks and a wild pitch put two Raider runners in scoring position, and on a ground ball off the bat of Gavin Collins, Nate Newcomer’s throw home sailed wide of the target, bringing in another run.
The wheels came off for Wood at that point, as Ridge followed that with another walk, another fielding error, a pair of RBI singles from Korey Beehler and Jesse Ryman, a sacrifice fly and a balk that brought in another run.
“In that particular situation in the seventh, I’m willing to give up the tie with guys on second and third,” stated Risedorph. “I didn’t want to bring the infield all the way in, because any Texas Leaguer or any rebound through the middle would cost us. Our senior (Newcomer) he’s trying to make a play. But if we get the out there (at first), we only give up one run and have two outs.”
The rally was impressive as Northridge hadn’t cracked the code for much of the contest against starting pitcher Gage Gongwer or reliever Jacob Raasch, who threw an efficient sixth inning and got the first out of the seventh before the rally started.
Gongwer did find himself in a little trouble early on, but managed to strand Raiders runners at third in the first, at second and third in the third, and after Ridge loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, got a fly out and strikeout looking to leave ’em full.
Gongwer would finish five innings, giving up six hits and two walks, striking out four. Ridge was only able to plate one run on him, that on a Collins groundout in the first.
NorthWood looked like it had stolen all of the momentum in the fifth as it broke through on Carter Gilbert. Newcomer coaxed a walk on a good at bat, then Isaiah Yoder followed with a solid single to right field. Gongwer dialed up his own number and brought both runners home on a base hit to left, giving NorthWood a sure 2-1 lead.
Other than that, Gilbert, who is a University of Kentucky recruit and now 6-0 on the season, was sharp. With the exception of the fourth inning, Gilbert allowed just two other hits for four overall, and combated four walks with 13 strikeouts, including two in the seventh.
“He’s hitting spots,” Risedorph said of Gilbert. “Too many called third strikes. You have to be tough in the box especially against a quality pitcher like that. Even if we foul those off, we raise his pitch count. We got him into the 90s, which is great there. They might make a change there if it’s a tight ball game going into the bottom of the seventh just because of the situation of the count, but now he comes out with a five-run lead and he’s a little more comfortable.”
The win moves Northridge to 12-3 overall and more importantly 7-2 and in first place in the NLC. NorthWood falls to 10-5 overall and 5-3 in the NLC, tied with Wawasee for second and now 1.5 games back with Ridge holding both games in hand having beaten NorthWood 3-1 in the first round of the round robin.
Risedorph stood assured following the game his team will learn from that seventh inning.
“We’re going to show up tomorrow morning and redo it,” Risedorph said of his practice plan. “We’re going to put the score back up on the board and recreate the situation, maybe have the coaches run the bases. We will replay the seventh inning and reteach the situation and try to learn from it.”