By Mike Deak
DECATUR – Historically, Norwell baseball has been a bastion of elite pitching. Cade Shelton is moving up that list quickly.
The freshman was outstanding in keeping his Knights in the semi-finals of the Class 3-A Bellmont Baseball Regional against Wawasee, and with the help of Lleyton Bailey, held the Warriors to just two hits in a 7-2, eight-inning victory Saturday afternoon.
Wawasee had all the juice in the first couple of innings, specifically in the first. Kam Salazar took the first pitch of his at-bat off his foot. Lucas Ringler followed with a walk, and Grant Brooks was a subtle breeze away from a three-run homer as his mash hit the bottom of the right-center fence, scoring Salazar.
Parker Young added a sacrifice fly, scoring Ringler, and the 17-time sectional champion Knights were quickly looking for answers trailing 2-0.
Wawasee would leave Brooks at third, however, and later left four more in scoring position through six innings, second and third with just one out in the second. Shelton worked out of that jam, looking like a veteran by striking out Salazar and Ringler back-to-back to end the threat.
Shelton would settle in after the first two frames, striking out seven and allowing just one hit, the Brooks knock in the first. Shelton gave way to Bailey in the fifth, but got a pair of runs from when Rocco Hanes hit a double to the deepest part of the park, clanking his bomb off the base of the fence to get Norwell on the board in the fourth, followed by a Brody Bolyn single to tie the game.
The game would stay tied until the eighth, where Norwell immediately opened with a double by Eli Riley and an RBI single from Luke Graft. Bolyn added another RBI, and a wild pitch and a pair of botched pick-off attempts let in three more as the Knights were well on their way.
“I don’t really think there’s an explanation,” said Wawasee coach Brent Doty. “Baseball is fragile. You can be on top of the mountain one minute, and then falling off a cliff the next. It’s not something that one or two players did. There were just a couple small things that happened like a weak hit ball that found a hole, or an error. Those things snowball sometimes, and I think that’s what happened in the eighth unfortunately.”
The downfall in the eighth will likely overshadow how good Wawasee starter Grant Brooks was for most of his seven-plus innings. Brooks struck out 10, six in the first three innings, as the junior was rolling. His location wavered in the fourth as Norwell’s first hits of the game were what tied the ballgame, then Norwell got its first four batters on as Brooks was laboring in the eighth.
“He gave us everything he had,” Doty said of his starting pitcher. “He had control of his pitches for the most part. They just caught up to him after getting a couple looks at him.”
Brooks, who also singled to open the bottom of the eighth, had the only two hits for the Warriors, which bow out of its first regional appearance in 24 years with an 18-13 mark.
“I’m so proud of our guys,” Doty said. “To think back at the beginning of the year when we only had three guys that had any varsity experience, it’s really a testament to the work our guys put in.
“To walk away with a sectional after 24 years, we’re super proud of that.”
Leo won the first semi-final by a 4-0 score over Hamilton Heights, scoring all four of its runs in the third inning.
In the regional final, the unranked Knights (20-9) upset the No. 2 Lions (29-4), 5-3, for its seventh regional championship.