SOUTH WHITLEY – A couple of bad innings led to the conclusion of a pair of local baseball seasons Saturday in South Whitley.
The Wawasee Warriors and Whitko Wildcats each advanced to the semifinals of Class 3A Sectional 21, but that’s where their roads ended, as Fairfield defeated Wawasee 8-5, followed by NorthWood downing Whitko 11-6.
Fairfield and NorthWood will square off in today’s 5:30 p.m. championship game back at Whitko High School
In the opening game Saturday morning, Wawasee took a 3-1 lead into the second inning, but bad defense led to a six-run inning by the Fairfield Falcons.
After giving up a leadoff single, Wawasee senior pitcher Nate Hare got a groundout, but then walked two-straight batters, forcing head coach Brent Doty to go to his bullpen.
Inserting senior Jordan Currie with the bases juiced, the pitcher didn’t get much help with his first batter, as Fairfield senior Zac Kropf reached on an error, while a run scored.
Still in a bases-loaded, one-out situation, Currie got the second out by striking out Forrest Glogouski looking, making things a little easier.
Currie then got another groundball, but again, it was mishandled, allowing the batter to reach base and another run to score, tying the game at 3-3.
“It’s something we’ve talked about, about just not letting one affect you and just go on to the next play,” Doty said of the defensive miscues. “That’s easier said than done when it’s in the sectional semifinal, and we haven’t been there a lot. 2010 was the last time we had won a (sectional) game. When those kids haven’t seen it, you get a few jitters.”
The errors really came up big after Fairfield senior Tony Zook blasted a Currie pitch over the fence for a grand slam, putting his team in front 7-3, recording his fifth RBI of the game in the process.
Wawasee committed another error after the Zook blast, but Fairfield was done scoring, and pretty much had put the game away.
“It’s a different game if we just get rid of that one defensive inning,” Doty said.
Wawasee did score an unearned run in the bottom of the inning, cutting the lead to 7-4, but it then struggled against junior left-hander Andrew Bobeck, who retired 13 of the next 15 Warriors he faced after that run scored.
Bobeck pitched all seven innings, striking out five and giving up seven hits, while keeping the Warriors off-balance with a hooking curveball.
Unlike Fairfield, Wawasee went with five pitchers in the game, and they did well, allowing just two earned runs and 10 hits between them.
“Our staff, 1-7, I’ll put them up against anybody,” Doty said. “Maybe a team here or there has a better No. 1 or 2 than us, but our 1-7 is better than their 1-7. I guarantee. That’s kind of what we were banking on today.”
In the loss, junior Gage Reinhard had two RBIs and junior Drew Anderson had two hits.
And despite the season ending, Doty was proud of the effort his guys put forth.
“They battled the entire year,” he said. “Coming back in three different games with walkoff wins, that’s just a testament to those kids. It’s nothing special we ever did or said. It’s just those kids are just hard-nosed, hard-working kids.”
Whitko head coach Erik Hisner was just as proud of his guys, despite having to say goodbye to a number of seniors, including Ethan Nicodemus, Avery Robbins and Seth Patrick.
“Those guys have been four-year letter winners – Ethan, Seth and Avery,” he said. “They won 75 games the last four years. They do a lot of stuff, not only off the field, but also a lot on it that the average fan probably doesn’t know about. We’re going to miss them.”
Through five innings, it appeared Hisner would get to coach the trio at least one more game, but NorthWood had different plans.
Down 5-2 going into the top of the sixth, NorthWood got five hits and two runs before Nicodemus got out of the inning on a deep flyball with the bases loaded.
NorthWood freshman relief pitcher Andrew Minnich got out of the bottom of the sixth unscathed, opening the door for his offense in the top of the seventh.
Trailing 5-4, NorthWood began the seventh with three-straight singles before Nicodemus got an out on a bunt in which the runner at third decided not to move, being forced out at home.
Still in a tough situation, but a double-play away from ending the game, Nicodemus saw the fourth hit ball of the inning get out of the infield, scoring the tying run.
With each baserunner moving up a base, junior Dominic Miranda cleared them with a grand slam, putting the Panthers up 9-5.
A pitch later, senior Hunter Lane took another pitch out of the park, increasing the lead to 10-5.
“We’ve never been a team that panics a lot,” NorthWood head coach Zach Benko said. “Throughout the day, we were hitting some balls hard, we were just hitting them right at people. I kind of knew when Hunter went up to the plate, just the makeup of their pitcher, he was going to try to get a fastball by him, and that’s the wrong thing to do against Hunter. He really stroked that one well and was ready for it.”
In their 13-5 first-round win over Tippecanoe Valley on Thursday, NorthWood’s offense waited until the fourth inning to put up 10, so Saturday’s seven-run, seventh inning shouldn’t have been that surprising, although it is uncommon, according to Benko.
“That’s not our typical game plan, we’re usually a team that will score one an inning, but we’ll take what we can get,” he said. “We kind of slept for six innings, then decided to show up for the seventh.”
The seven-run, seven-hit inning gave NorthWood 18 hits and 11 runs in the game, but Hisner was still pleased with the way Nicodemus pitched.
“He kept them down for a long time,” Hisner said of Nicodemus. “He threw a heck of a game. (Sophomore Tanner) Gaff threw 124 pitches (in Friday’s nine-inning, first-round win over Lakeland), so it was Ethan’s game. He threw well, they’re just a tough team to keep down. Tip your cap to them. We made pitches, they just went down and got them.”
Once the dust had settled on the top of the seventh, Whitko was down 11-5, but Hisner had to go to work, convincing his guys they could still win.
“I just told them, ‘We’ve fought all year. We fought all tournament long, so let’s just keep fighting. You never know,’” he said. “Our goal was to get the tying run to the plate, and we almost did. I just told them, if we were going to go down, we were going to go down fighting.”
The Wildcats did get a run in the bottom of the seventh and had runners at the corners with one out, but Minnich got a flyout and groundout, ending the game.
“We were right there,” Hisner said. “We didn’t lose this game, they won it. Give them a lot of credit.”
Whitko junior Zach Snep hit a two-out solo home run, tying the game at 1-1 in the first inning, going 3 for 4 on the day, while freshman Landen Goff was 2 for 3 and junior Tanner Hughes was 2 for 4.
Hisner knows he loses a lot in Nicodemus, Patrick and Robbins, but does have quite a few returnees from a team that won 20 games.
“We lost three of our top four pitchers and three of our top five bats (from last year),” he said. “So, to do what we did this year, I told the kids that I thought we played above our ability level. We go 20-10 and I know Fairfield’s a good team, but I honestly believed who won this game was going to hold the trophy at the end of Monday. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but real proud of my kids.”

(Sectional 21, Semifinal)
F    160    010    0    –    8    10    2
W    310    000    1    –    5    7    4
Fairfield – Andrew Bobeck (W, 7IP, 4R, 3ER, 7H, 5K, 2BB, 1HB) and Tony Zook.
Wawasee – Nate Hare (L, 1-1/3IP, 4R, 1ER, 3H, 0K, 3BB), Jordan Currie (2, 3IP, 4R, 1ER, 5H, 2K, 1BB, 1HB, 1HR), Lucas Garza (5, 2/3IP, 0R, 1H, 1K, 0BB), Caleb Dingeldein (6, 1IP, 0R, 1H, 0K, 0BB), Gage Fanin (7, 1IP, 0R, 0H, 1K, 0BB) and Nik Anderson, Bailey Hershberger (6).
2B – Zac Kropf (F).
HR – Zook (F).
Records: Fairfield 20-7, Wawasee 11-16.

(Sectional 21, Semifinal)
N    101    002    7    –    11    18    2
W    101    300    1    –    6    11    1
NW – Chad Sellers (ND, 3IP, 4R, 3ER, 4H, 0K, 3BB, 1HR), Asa Tobias (4, W, 4IP, 2R, 2ER, 7H, 1K, 0BB) and Blake Cleveland.
Whitko – Ethan Nicodemus (L, 6-1/3IP, 10R, 9ER, 17H, 0K, 3HR), Avery Robbins (7, 2/3IP, 0R, 1H, 0K, 1BB) and Seth Patrick.
2B – William Kirkwood (NW), Sellers (NW), Alex Teske (NW), Hunter Sroufe (W).
HR – Hunter Lane (NW), Kyle McCoy (NW), Dominic Miranda (NW), Zach Snep (W).
Whitko Record: 20-10.