Tuesday, May 16, 2017

NEN Baseball Ends District Jinx in Cliffhanger

It looked like one of the Cubs' meltdowns all over again. Northeast was seemingly in command against North Harrison in the second round of districts, up 6-2, when everything unraveled in the fifth inning. Lane Huitt's two run double made it 6-4, Collin Castleberry drove him home with a single, and Logan Craig hit a home run to the left of the scoreboard to finish NEN pitcher Rowdy West and seemingly put North Harrison up 7-6. But then Rowdy West, for the third time this year, pulled off a successful appeal play and wiped out Castleberry's score since he didn't touch home plate. Instead of Northeast trailing, they were tied with North Harrison 6-6 with plenty of life. Spencer Weir came on in relief to retire J.D. Baker on a grounder to end the inning.

They took full advantage of their new lease on life; Rowdy West tripled into the left field corner with one out, Ethan Adwell beat out a slow roller to J.D. Baker at short as West came home safely on the throw to first to make it 7-6. From there, Spencer Weir pitched two innings of shutdown relief for the win. There was a heartstopping moment in the sixth when Trey Gilliland's grounder to West at short was thrown high, but Reed McIntyre, one of the smaller players on the team, made a leaping stop of the errant throw and somehow landed on the bag in time for the third out.

Weir needed to retire the Shamrocks 1-2-3 in the seventh to keep Castleberry, who had hit two home runs against NEN in North Harrison's first-ever baseball game last year, along with Logan Craig, who had already hit one Monday night, from batting again. He did so, retiring Logan Huitt and Randy Rinehart on strikes; second baseman Chance Barber, who let one get under his legs to jump-start North Harrison's fifth inning, did not let that happen again.

North Harrison jumped out on top in the first as Logan Craig's groundout scored Lane Huitt and J.D. Baker singled to left center to score Castleberry. But Northeast got one back in the bottom of the first as Chet Spire flied out to score Spencer Weir. Weir, playing short, made a leaping catch to save catcher Andrew Freemyer a throwing error in the second and somehow tagged out Logan Huitt trying to steal in the process to stop the Shamrocks from adding to their 2-1 lead.

Northeast finally broke through in the second as Spencer Gray singled through the hole at short, Chance Barber walked, and Reed McIntyre hit a screamer to left that had home run written all over it. Left fielder Lane Huitt knocked it down to keep it in the yard, but couldn't come up with a catch and then threw the ball into the dugout to score Gray and tie it at second. Spencer Weir walked, but North Harrison was seemingly home free after Chet Spire's fly ball to Logan Huitt in center was too shallow to score Barber. But then Andrew Freemyer hit a line drive that went over the left field fence for a grand slam, Northeast's third of the year, to seemingly put them in control at 6-2, a score that stood until the fifth.

But Northeast had to battle history the rest of the way; the Cubs found out last year that curses have a hard time of going away. Northeast had won conference each of the last three years, only to fall in the first round of districts every time. At the end, Coach Vance Proffitt was on the verge of tears. But this time, they were tears of joy. On the other hand, as he told his charges, the only thing it got them was another day of practice.

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