By Mike Deak
SYRACUSE – Less than 24 hours fresh from the wild softball sectional championship waged between NorthWood and champion Wawasee, the two schools aligned itself for another sectional championship showdown on Memorial Day. Wawasee won the first semi-final of the Class 3-A Wawasee Baseball Sectional in a 5-3 score against Jimtown while NorthWood had little trouble with West Noble, 10-0, in game two of Saturday’s twin bill.
Wawasee 5, Jimtown 3
It was fitting that a sectional hosted by Wawasee would see a play at the plate decide a championship ticket. Memories of 2019’s sectional semi-finals resurfaced when Angola scored a controversial game-winning run on a bang-bang play at the plate to knock out Wawasee from the sectional. In the modern form, Jimtown sent Hunter Konrath barreling down the third base line with two outs in the top of the sixth, trying to literally steal the go-ahead run.
Konrath took off on the pitch of Kam Salazar, and when he reached the right-handed batter’s box, his foot landed on the mitt of Wawasee catcher Parker Young. The ball shuffled and Konrath skidded away towards his dugout. But Young claimed he held the ball, then as he turned to state his case, he ran and tagged Konrath, who was quickly trying to make his way back to home plate.
Konrath was called out as the home plate umpire hadn’t made an initial signal, and a conference between the umpiring crew confirmed the call, keeping the score tied.
“That’s just part of the game,” said Wawasee head coach Brent Doty about the controversial play that worked in his team’s favor. “There’s always going to be plays at any base that could be a dicey play or questionable call, I think they got this one right in our favor, but it’s two teams battling hard and it’s going to be competitive all the way through.”
That opened the curtain for Wawasee to find a hero in the next stanza. Jacob Meek led off with a single, and Salazar was intentionally walked to put two men on. Lucas Ringler then put the weight of the team on his shoulders and poked a base hit down the right field line, scoring two and giving Wawasee it’s go-ahead runs.
Ty Brooks added an RBI single and scored a run on an errant Jimtown throw in the fourth. Salazar added another RBI with a solid single in the inning.
Brooks was efficient for the Warriors on the hill, not only limiting the Jimmies to an earned run on four hits in 5.2 innings of work, but worked deep enough in the game to keep Wawasee’s pitching plans in tact. In a high school world where pitch counts matter nearly as much as hits and runs themselves, Brooks did his work in 114 pitches, and Salazar needed just 19 to get the final four outs, keeping Wawasee from having to dig deeper into its pitching wallet.
“You slot Grant (Brooks) and Ty in there one and two, and I think we are tough to beat when they are on the bump,” Doty said. “Ty did a phenomenal job today and Grant was great on Thursday (against Lakeland). We’ll get him back for Monday and hopefully compete and try to win a sectional.”
NorthWood 10, West Noble 0
In a scenario most would categorize as a ‘trap game’, NorthWood was having none of the proverbial shenanigans in pounding the Chargers in game two.
Jacob Raasch was about as effective as coach AJ Risedorph could ask for, allowing just two hits, striking out eight and walking none. West Noble’s only threat came in the fourth, when it collected its only two hits on back-to-back singles, but Raasch worked out of it, getting a fielder’s choice and a strikeout to end the remote threat.
NorthWood was already leading 5-0 during that portion of the fourth, then came to the plate in the bottom half and hung five on the board to set up the dime.
Isaiah Yoder had three hits and two RBI, Sergio Lira Ayala doubled twice and drove in a pair, Logan Balasa had two hits and a run, and Wriley Symons had a two-run double among NorthWood’s 12-hit attack.
“Our approach didn’t change,” said Risedorph in taking on the two-win Chargers. “Our mentality all year has always been next pitch, next play. Ever since our first loss against Northridge, every game has been a championship game, every pitch is a championship pitch.”
Risedorph then offered the pitfalls of some tough nights that have reversed of late for the Northern Lakes Conference champs.
“We may have been tight early in those settings, but we needed those games to feel that discomfort and put that pressure on ourselves. We’ve been able to make a good run here since those games.”
The Panthers (19-6) are returning to the championship game after losing to Angola in the 2019 final. NorthWood has won seven of the past nine sectional titles and are seeking its 13th crown all-time. Wawasee (17-12) is seeking its seventh sectional championship, but looking to end 23 years of frustration, having not taken the championship team photo since 1997.