Clutch Cougars down Panthers
North Harrison coach Cody Johnson had a brief chat with pitcher Josh Craig before the junior right-hander returned to the mound for the seventh inning Monday.
Facing rival Corydon Central, Craig had sailed through the first six innings with little trouble. Constantly working ahead of hitters, the efficient Craig took the ball from his coach and closed out the victory over the Panthers 5-2 in Ramsey.
‘We fell a little bit short, and they were a little better than us today,’ Corydon Central coach Zach Sipes said. ‘They pitched it a little bit better, played defense a little better and got the crucial hits they needed.’
Corydon Central went down in order in the seventh, all fly balls, with the final caught in foul territory by third baseman Max Flock.
‘We have played really good baseball the last two weeks,’ Johnson said. ‘The only thing that is not showing up is wins. Today, we finally got over that hump. We played good in all aspects of the game. Our fielding is great right now. Our middle infield is good, and we beat a good team. I’m proud of them.’
Offensively, both teams put up seven hit performances, but four of North Harrison’s five runs came with two outs.
Five of Corydon Central’s seven hits came from its top two hitters in the batting order: Alec Saulman and Jordan Ripperdan. The rest of the order was controlled by Craig, who induced many routine outs. The stat line from Craig wasn’t stellar as far as strikeouts (one), but he walked none and gave up one earned run.
‘He can locate,’ Johnson said of Craig. ‘That’s what we have been preaching in practice. The main thing is locate the fastball. He got ahead the whole game with his fastball then worked with his other stuff. When you are working off your other stuff, you tend to get weak contact because hitters are guessing.’
North Harrison took the lead in the third inning, breaking a 1-all tie. Jake Book reached with two outs after getting hit by a pitch. Corydon Central starting pitcher Ripperdan then gave up an RBI triple to deep right center off the bat of Flock, bringing in Book. Jake Morin then sent Flock to the plate when Corydon Central misplayed an infield grounder for a 3-1 North Harrison lead.
Corydon Central cut the lead to one in the fourth when Gabe Fleace reached on a shot down the left-field line. He later advanced to third from first when a pick-off attempt at first went awry. Clayton Schreck lifted a fly ball to the outfield, sending a tagging Fleace home.
Ripperdan was lifted from the pitching rubber after four-plus innings for Fleace. In the fourth, North Harrison padded its lead when Alex Eveslage legged out an infield hit to bring in Ben Davis. Devin Sweeney, who reached on a single, was thrown out on the play trying to go from first to third to end the inning.
Craig had to work out of trouble in the fifth. Saulman, who went 3 for 3 with two doubles, reached on a single in the frame. Ripperdan followed suit with a single to right, but the Panthers weren’t able to bring either in with two outs.
‘Our top three guys hit the ball pretty well today,’ Sipes said. ‘Ripperdan and Saulman had a few hits each. Their pitcher (Craig) did a good job pounding the zone. We didn’t make an adjustment. It came down to us hitting into a lot of easy outs. Credit North Harrison; they made the plays.’
Book won the battle at the plate to start the fifth. Working a full count, the junior hit a towering blast to left center. The ball fell at the foot of the ‘Corydon Panthers’ sign, unable to go over the 390-foot deepest part of the yard.
Morin provided the RBI for a 5-2 score.
The rest of the way, Craig was in control, retiring the final seven in order.
‘Josh has been a bulldog on the mound this year,’ Book said. ‘He has the stuff to take us places. I love playing (shortstop) behind him. He throws strikes and gets his job done efficiently. He’s fun to play behind.’
‘He’s not going to overpower you, but he is going to outwork you,’ Johnson said. ‘He works super hard. He’s here at every open facility we have. He wants to be a ball player and showed it tonight. The last couple of pitches, I told him to throw it as hard as he can, rock and fire.’
Corydon Central opened the scoring in the first inning when Saulman smacked a first-pitch double to left. A single off the bat of Ripperdan moved Saulman to third. Craig was able to limit damage by getting Fleace to roll over into a Book-to-Paul Moberly-to-Morin double play. Saulman would score for a 1-0 Corydon Central lead.
‘We talked to (Moberly) how big that double play was,’ Johnson said. ‘You don’t have to go 4 for 4 to contribute. Playing good defense is a big contribution.’
North Harrison got on the board in the second. Ripperdan fanned two straight batters after allowing a Morin single, but Zane Armstrong looped an 0-2 pitch to right to knot the score.
‘Early in the season we would give up once we had two strikes,’ Johnson said. ‘I’ve talked over and over again about keep battling. They do it now. Sometimes it works out with Zane and the bleeder hit. It’s those flairs that can win games.’
For the Panthers, Sipes said he’s eager to see how his team bounces back.
‘This is a rival game and, of course, we want to win, but I thought we competed pretty well,’ Sipes said. ‘Jordan and Gabe pitched well for us. (North Harrison) happened to get a few big hits.’
Morin closed with two hits for North Harrison. Book reached base three times with a walk and a hit batter to go with his triple.
Ripperdan, who was 2 for 3 at the plate, took the loss on the hill.
A season ago, North Harrison’s regular season win over Corydon Central propelled a strong second half of the season. Johnson said he hopes it will be a repeat in 2017.
‘They want to win and compete,’ Johnson said of his guys. ‘We’re headed in the right direction. All I ask is to battle for seven innings, and we did that.’
Book said he’s noticed the turnaround in the last few weeks as well.
‘Everything has gotten better from our attitudes to our at bats,’ he said. ‘Things are starting to come around and look north for North Harrison baseball. Our pitching has gotten better. When we throw strikes, we can do big things.’
Corydon Central 100 100 0 ‘ 2 7 1
North Harrison 012 110 x ‘ 5 7 2
W ‘ Craig, L ‘ Ripperdan.
2B ‘ Saulman 2 (CC), Ripperdan (CC); 3B ‘ Book (NH), Flock (NH).