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North Harrison overpowers Wolfpack

North Harrison overpowers Wolfpack
North Harrison overpowers Wolfpack
North Harrison’s Colin Higdon get a free pass around the bases after parking a shot over the centerfield fence for a home run in the top of the fifth inning in the Cougars’ 12-1 win over Crawford County. Photo by Wade Bell
Wade Bell, Sports Writer

The North Harrison Cougars and Crawford County Wolfpack baseball teams both had only one win under their belts going into their game last Wednesday afternoon. The Cougars had lost their two previous games, while the Wolfpack had fallen in their last three. At first, it looked like the two teams were going to have one of their classic rivalry battles. In the end, however, it turned into a blowout as the Cougars walked away with a 12-1 win in five innings.

“I’m glad that we’re playing and getting better,” said North Harrison coach Kevin Fessel. “That’s the big thing. I hope we’re seeing the things we need to do to clean it up and get better. That’s my main focus right now.”

“We’re not focused,” said Crawford County coach Isaac Bowles. “We’re going to make mistakes and we’re going to make errors but, whenever you’re not focused, when you’re not ready and the fly ball is hit into your area, there’s not really any excuse and that’s what I tried to explain to those boys. You made an error, move on, but we have to get to the point to where we’re focused on every single pitch. That’s hard for kids that haven’t played in two years.”

Crawford County committed its first error early in the first inning with Dalton Knott batting. Knott went to second on a passed ball to Jake Galligan then stole third with Crawford County erring the throw. Galligan drew a walk and stole second. With two outs, Sawyer Wetzel walked, loading the bases. The Wolfpack committed their third mistake with Brody Fessel batting, allowing Knott to score, and the Cougars had a 1-0 lead.

Crawford County got that one back in the bottom of the inning. Josh Talley reached first on a North Harrison error, then Bryce Rahman walked. The two runners advanced on a passed ball to Trevor Harvey. Harvey struck out, but Talley later scored on a passed ball to Blake Decker to tie the game at 1-1 after one inning.

“The first play of the game was an error,” said Fessel. “I promised them before the game no errors this game and you get a Double Bubble (gum). They booted it the first play.”

The Cougars began to open up the game in the second inning. Crawford County committed another error allowing Henry Davis to first then Mason Napper singled. Isaiah Lawson advanced both runners on a sacrifice bunt, then Knott was hit by a pitch loading the bases. Galligan hit into a fielder’s choice, forcing out Davis but Colin Higdon followed with a single, scoring Napper and Knott for a 3-1 lead.

Crawford County managed just one base runner in the bottom of the inning and failed to convert. In the top of the third, the Cougars went to full throttle. Wetzel walked, and Jack Burks came in to run. Fessel flied out, and Burks was tagged for two outs. Riley Schneider and Davis both singled, Schneider scoring on the hit after stealing second.

Napper and Lawson walked, loading the bases, and Bowles put Isaac Nickelson on the mound to pitch. Two more Crawford County errors, with Knott batting, allowed three more Cougars’ runs to cross the plate. Galligan followed with a double, scoring Knott. Higdon doubled, scoring Galligan, and the Cougars’ lead was eight, 9-1.

“It’s a two to 2-1/2-hour game, and you have to be focused every single at-bat, every single pitch,” Bowles said. “That’s the frustrating part for me. It was 4-1, and we had two outs and they pop one up to my shortstop and we just dropped it. That inning ended up being 9-1 at the end of it, so we give up five runs after you make a routine fly ball and we drop it. You can’t compete with anybody on our schedule if you do that.”

The next inning and a half went scoreless.

In the top of the fifth, the Cougars posted three more. With one out, Lawson was hit by a pitch then stole second and third. Knott walked, then Lawson scored on another throwing error by the Wolfpack. With two outs, Higdon ripped a shot over the center-field fence for a home run and a 12-1 lead. Crawford County managed just a single base runner in the bottom of the inning, and the Cougars had the 12-1 win.

“It was a slow start,” Fessel said. “We weren’t used to a slower pitcher (Nickelson). We’ve seen 75 to 80 (miles per hour pitches) most of our games, and I think that might have been 55 to 60. It just took us a while to get used to the speed and getting ready to go.”

“Monday we lost 23-1 (against Northeast Dubois),” said Bowles. “It’s all mental mistakes; it’s all routine plays. I don’t want anybody out there making crazy plays. I’m not expecting that. But whenever we drop routine fly balls, that’s tough on our pitchers.”

North Harrison finished with eight hits for the game, with Higdon getting three for the day, including his home run. Wetzel struck out six Crawford County batters and walked two for his four innings pitched. The Cougars had just one error for the game and left six runners on base.

“We’ve gotten better defensively, and we’re getting our errors cleaned up a little bit,” Fessel said. “It’s still not where I want it. It’s still early, so we’re getting there. I thought we played well. I thought we came out and did some good things.”

Crawford County had just three hits for the game, Nickelson getting two of those. The Wolfpack threw three pitchers combining for one strikeout, six walks and three hit batters. Crawford County had seven errors for the game and left four runners stranded.

“I don’t think we can say we were ready for every pitch,” Bowles said. “That’s the thing we have to get through because there are going to be those physical, hustle mistakes. There are going to be some errors made. The problem is we have to be ready for every single pitch every single at-bat. Whenever you make those routine plays, nobody is going to beat you that bad. The better team is going to win and that’s fine, but nobody is going to run-rule you.”

Bowles said Nickelson did provide a bright spot for Crawford County’s day.

“He threw well,” said Bowles. “He made a couple of good plays. He had two hits. Isaac is really locked in right now. He is a very bright spot right now out in the field and hitting. He’s playing really well. I can’t ask anything else from him and then, when he goes out on the mound, he throws strikes. That’s all we wanted, to throw strikes and let your defense try to make a play.”

Both coaches are still having to teach the game to their young players. The good thing is there’s a lot of season left to get the job done.

“I’m pleased with these guys,” said Fessel. “They’re coming out and working hard and they realize what they need to do, so we’re getting better. With the number of seniors we have, I expect them to do that and handle some of the criticisms that I’m going to give them. I told them, ‘It’s nothing personal. I want you to get better so, if I call you out, it’s not that I don’t like you. I want you to get better.’ I think they take it pretty well.”

“That’s the thing here,” said Bowles. “Defensively, if we shore things up, I think we can compete in a lot of games. If you hold a team to four runs, you’re going to give yourself a chance. That’s what I’m trying to explain to these kids. If we just make the routine plays — our pitching is not great, we don’t have a lot of arms, we don’t have a lot of velocity — but if you make the routine plays, you’re going to keep it close, and that’s all I can ask.”

North Harrison                  126   03 – 12   8   1

Crawford County              100   00 –   1   3   7

W-Wetzel, L-Kalk; 1B-Napper (NH), Higdon (NH), Nickelson (CC) 2, Schneider (NH), Davis (NH), Wetzel (NH), Rahman (CC); 2B-Galligan (NH), Higdon (NH); HR-Higdon (NH); Records-North Harrison 2-3, Crawford County 1-4.