|Wed, Aug 27, 2014 12:54 PM
April 30, 2014 | 11:02 AM
Clearing the bases with a three-run homer in the top of the fourth inning Thursday, North Harrison's Jacob Faith gave his team the lead for good against rival Corydon Central.
Although the Panthers fought back from four runs down to make it a one-run ballgame, North Harrison added a pair of key insurance runs in the seventh to hold on for a 9-6 victory. Faith's homer was part of a 2-for-2 day for the junior that included a pair of walks.
"It's huge," Faith said of the win at Corydon. "We're coming along. We had a few bad errors, but we need to clean those up."
The four-run fourth broke a 3-all tie between the Mid-Southern Conference foes.
Gage Arnold led off with a walk but was later tagged out at home on a nifty play by Corydon Central catcher Alec Saulman. The signal caller knocked down a pitch and slid quickly to gather the ball before tossing it to Panthers hurler Stauth to nab Arnold's attempt to score.
The play didn't derail North Harrison's momentum. A ground-rule double by Konner Voyles, part of a two-hit day for the center fielder, set the table for a run. A two-out walk to Paul Moberly then a infield single by Craig Waynescott broke the tie.
Then, with two on, Faith brought them home with a shot to left. Corydon Central left fielder T.J. Mathes, on a dead sprint, crashed into the fence trying to chase down the ball. He was deemed OK after coaches checked on his condition. Regardless, Faith trotted home with a sea of blue surrounding home plate.
"It was pretty awesome," Faith said of the blast. "It didn't feel like a home run. The hit before (a double in the third inning), I thought that one was gone. It went, so it was good."
"He's swinging real well and getting comfortable at the plate," Polk said. "It's all about good at-bats."
Faith has made several adjustments since playing as a freshman. Now a junior, he's played several positions.
"We've asked a lot of him," Polk said. "He's moved around a lot in his three years. He's been a catcher, an outfielder, a third baseman and now a second baseman."
Seeing plays like Mathes nearly running through the chain-link fence and other hustle plays encouraged Corydon Central skipper Zach Sipes.
"Are we playing with this passion and energy because it's a big rivalry or are we playing this hard because we want to be out here?" Sipes said he asked his team after the game. "It's easy to get up for North Harrison, but can we get up Saturday for Crawford County? We need high energy at all times."
Recent struggles at the plate doomed the young Corydon Central team last week. The bats started to come alive against the Cougars, tallying more hits than their rivals, 9-7.
"Yesterday, we got a practice in and went back to doing simple things with hitting mechanics," Sipes said. "Today, we had more hits than we had for a whole week."
In the bottom of the fourth, trailing 7-3, the Panthers made a rally. Following two quick outs, an error in left field kept the frame going.
Cashing in, Alex Engleman hit a double down the left-field line to score a run. The next batter, Elijah Terrell, had a liner thud off the 310 sign near the foul pole for a two-run double.
The runs chased North Harrison starting pitcher Micah Napper and brought the Panthers within one, 7-6. Reliever Cameron Smith kept Terrell at second, forcing Jordan Ripperdan to fly out.
"It was a game of swings," Polk said. "Corydon-North Harrison is a game of roller coaster emotions. It's two young teams trying to figure out who they are. We both made some mistakes but both made some great plays."
Corydon Central had another chance in the fifth and sixth innings to either tie or take the lead. In the fifth, singles by Saulman, Austin Gum and Tyler Stauth loaded the bases. Smith quieted the threat, inducing a fly out to keep the bags full.
In the sixth, a single by Engleman led off, but he eventually was doubled up. A liner hit by Terrell was snagged by Moberly and fired to first.
North Harrison added a pair of runs in the seventh, keyed by an Arnold single. An error by Corydon Central allowed a run to score, then Alex Eveslage brought home Arnold with a sac fly.
"The inning of the game was the top half of the seventh," Polk said. "If we don't extend the lead, it's a one-run game in the bottom of the seventh with the heart of their lineup coming up. Alex Eveslage's sac fly was big run."
Defensively, the highlight of the night came in the bottom of the seventh when North Harrison shortstop Alex Flock dove to his right to backhand a sharp grounder hit by Saulman. The strong throw to first halted Saulman's bid for a three-hit day.
"That's a momentum killer," Polk said. "(Saulman) smokes that ball, and Alex dives and makes a play."
Some of Corydon Central's struggles came with giving too many free passes. Between starter Stauth and reliever Gum, the Panthers allowed 10 free bases (seven walks and three hit batters).
"They are young pitchers," Sipes said. "We need to force teams to hit it. They'll learn and get hungry to get better."
Offensively, the first inning was huge for both teams.
Stauth had command issues in the top of the first. He hit lead-off Craig Waynescott then walked Faith. It set the table for Alex Flock to deliver a two-run double down the right-field line.
Late in the inning, with two outs, Konner Voyles singled past Corydon Central's first baseman to plate Flock.
"Konner hit the double and hit two balls pretty well," Polk said. "We tell our guys, if you square it up, they get you out they get you out."
The 3-0 lead for North Harrison didn't last long.
In the bottom of the first, a two-out single by Alec Saulman started a rally. Dalton Arnold reached when the Cougars committed an error on a pop-up. The miscue gave Austin Gum a shot to take advantage. He delivered, smoking a ball well over the left-field fence near the foul pole, his third dinger of the season.
"We've been working on him to have good at-bats," Sipes said of the slugging freshman. "He has power, but we need to make sure he is working on hitting hard singles."
Napper earned the win, going 3-2/3 innings, giving up four hits and striking out three. Picking up the save was Smith, going the rest of the way in relief, striking out two.
Gum pitched solid in relief for Corydon Central, giving up one hit and striking out four in 3-1/3 innings. Stauth, however, took the loss.
"Honestly, we don't like to lose and definitely don't like to lose to North Harrison, but, hopefully, today was a step in the right direction," Sipes said. "Last week we struggled. We got off to a good start to the season but lost some games since then. Just being a young team, they lost some confidence."
Sipes said Wednesday's intense practice and the game against North Harrison will get the confidence back.
"I told my guys at the end we could do two things: get down because we got beat or we can keep the intensity we brought yesterday to practice and today at the game and keep that going. If we keep it going, we'll get better," he said.
Polk said he was pleased with closing out the game when holding the lead. Earlier in the week, the Cougars let leads slip when facing Charlestown and Heritage Hills.
"We hadn't been able to finish a game, but we did that well tonight," he said.
Prior to the game, players and coaches from both squads participated as "Buddies" during a Friends of Harrison County Youth Challenger Ball game. Challenger Ball is an opportunity for children, ages 5 and older, with physically (ambulatory and non-ambulatory) and developmentally challenges to experience playing baseball.
Buddies from Corydon Central and North Harrison assisted players in the field, at the plate and running bases.
It was an event that drew great applause from coaches and even greater smiles out of Challenger Ball players and the high school athletes.
"I kept watching our kids and the Corydon kids and they were all smiling," Polk said. "They were down on their knees high-fiving them. I couldn't decide who was having more fun, the Challenger kids or our kids."
North Harrison 300 400 2 – 9 7 2
Corydon Central 300 300 0 – 6 9 1
W – Napper, L – Stauth, Sv. – Smith.
2B – Flock (NH), Faith (NH), Voyles (NH), Engleman (CC), Terrell (CC); HR – Faith (NH), Gum (CC).