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Cougars nearly come all the way back

Cougars nearly come all the way back
Cougars nearly come all the way back
North Harrison pitcher Jake Morin, above, dives head first to catch a squeeze bunt against Madison. The athletic play off the mound led to a double play. Photos by Brian Smith

A chill in the air brought out a few blankets in the stands, but the North Harrison baseball team didn’t continue hibernating in the final inning of the season opener last Wednesday versus Madison.
As the sun went down, North Harrison entered the home dugout trailing 7-3. Instead of heading for some hot chocolate or a warm car, the Cougars prodded their way back into the game with quality at bats. North Harrison came up with five singles and a walk in the seventh, but the run total stopped at six. Leaving the bases loaded, the Cougars fell 7-6, but the willingness to fight back stuck with skipper Cody Johnson.
‘The one thing that’s going to keep us in these early-season games is having heart and taking pride in your team,’ Johnson said. ‘They didn’t roll over. That’s the biggest thing for us. Down 7-3 in the last inning, we could have said this game was over. Last year’s team would have been picking their stuff up, but these guys were staying in the game.’
It didn’t hurt in the final inning to start things off with No. 2 and 3 hitters Alex Eveslage and Jake Book. Each collected their third hit of the game with singles.
Back-to-back infield hits off the bats of Jake Morin and Jackson Pullen brought home one run.
With the bases loaded, Brett Rudolph delivered a 2-run shot to center, inching North Harrison within one run, 7-6.
‘He leads by example defensively and struggles sometimes offensively,’ Johnson said of Rudolph, the team’s catcher. ‘He’s a big, strong kid with a big heart. It was a big hit.’
Madison yanked reliever Brady Adler in favor of Gunner Jones.
Jones induced a force out from pinch hitter Jake Harley. Devin Sweeny, with two outs, worked the count from 1-2 to draw a walk. With the bases loaded, Jones earned the save when Paul Moberly hit a soft liner to third.
‘Right now, we are trying to figure some things out, but the heart, pride and effort is there,’ Johnson said. ‘That’s going to go a long way in the beginning of the season.’
North Harrison sent two arms to the mound: Morin to start and Josh Craig in relief. Each overcame their shaky respective first inning of work in which they yielded more than one run but settled into better grooves over time.
A diving catch by North Harrison’s Moberly at second base opened the game with a bit of flair. After recording the first two outs quickly, Morin hit a stumbling block. Ceaton Bowman had a single, then a double by Mikiah Kring brought the former home. Madison pushed ahead 2-0 after a half inning with a Connor Thurnall RBI single to left.
North Harrison saw Eveslage and Book slash singles to the outfield grass in the first, but neither found a way across the plate.
A two-out error on North Harrison in the second set up a run for Madison. Morin lost a bit of control, hitting a batter then walking two in a row. In the third, Morin regrouped with a fine defensive play. A squeeze bunt attempt by Jacob Nichols sent the ball airborne. Morin dove toward home, putting his leather between the blades of grass and the ball for the catch. He easily threw to third for a double play.
North Harrison cracked the scoreboard in the fourth when Max Flock followed up a nice defensive pick in the top half of the inning with a hustle double. Flock eventually moved to third on a wild pitch then later scored when Morin reached on an error. The Cougars, however, stranded two runners in the frame.
Morin passed the ball off to Craig, who had a blip in the fifth. Three straight hits for the Cubs ‘ a double each for Zach Dean and Zach Burnett ‘ prompted a four-run inning. A.J. Karst also had a successful squeeze bunt to put Madison up 7-1.
Craig bounced back to keep Madison hitless in the sixth and seventh.
‘I truly believe our (pitchers) had their moments,’ Johnson said. ‘Josh Craig had some issues in his first inning of work. It may have been they weren’t as game ready. Josh Craig threw maybe five innings of varsity last year and now he’s thrown three in the first game this year. They are going to learn and make adjustments. It’s a long season.’
The heart of North Harrison’s order delivered two runs in the fifth to creep back into the game. Eveslage legged out an infield hit, then Book shot a ball up the middle. Morin later brought Eveslage home with a sacrifice fly, while Book came around when Pullen reached on an outfield error.
‘Those are our core guys,’ Johnson said of the top of the batting order. ‘With the top of our lineup ” Bubba (Moberly), Alex, Book and Max ” those are the guys we really depend on because they have the most experience at the varsity level.’
North Harrison, however, couldn’t fully complete the comeback in the final few innings after trailing by six.
Madison starting pitcher Ceaton Bowman had a steady showing through five innings of work to earn the win. He had seven strikeouts and allowed two free passes. Thurnall led Madison’s offense with a 3-for-4 day, while Burnett went 2 for 4.
‘We are young,’ Johnson said. ‘There are a lot of juniors who had their first varsity at bats. We had guys graduate or guys that didn’t come back who played some valuable innings who are not with us any more … Most of the younger guys probably realized today, they are not on JV anymore. Guys are throwing secondary pitches for strikes, and guys are throwing harder. It’s going to be a learning curve in the beginning, but I’m confident in them.’
North Harrison will return to the field today (Wednesday) to host Perry Central.

Madison 210 040 0 ‘ 7 10 3
North Harrison 000 120 3 ‘ 6 10 5
W ‘ Bowman, L ‘ Morin, Sv ‘ Jones.
2B ‘ Kring (M), Dean (M), Thurnall (M), Burnett (M), Flock (NH).