DECATUR — NorthWood stood toe-to-toe with traditional Indiana baseball powerhouse Norwell and the Panthers didn’t flinch.
The No. 3-ranked Knights outlasted NorthWood 9-8 in eighth innings in the championship game of the Class 3A Bellmont Regional on Tuesday, June 4.
But the young Panthers — first baseman Chad Ervin was the lone senior starter — did not go down without a fight against a team that moved to 30-3 and into the 3A northern semistate at South Bend or Kokomo Saturday, June 8. The IHSAA will determine semistate assignments when all regionals are complete.
The Knights (30-3) smacked six home runs and the Panthers (17-8) a pair — including a go-ahead solo blast by Norwell senior Josh VanMeter in the top of the eighth inning and a game-tying two-run shot by NorthWood junior Kyle McCoy in the bottom of the seventh.
VanMeter (12-1) was the winning pitcher, striking out five of the seven batters he faced. By the time the Knights play again, he could be drafted. The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft starts Thursday, June 6, and scouts have shown plenty of interest in the pitcher/shortstop.
“(VanMeter) has had so much pressure on him with all the scouts,” said Norwell head coach Andy McClain. “He’s dedicated. He works at it.”
Norwell, which started eight seniors and was making its 14th overall regional appearance, also got two homers (third and fifth innings) and a double (fourth inning) from No. 9 hitter and senior Spencer Newell.
“Spencer Newell had a great day,” said McClain. “He’s strong as an ox. He’s been working for this moment all year and, sure enough, he got it.”
Also smacking dingers for the Knights were senior Tailur Szarenski (first inning), Austin Dettmer (fourth inning) and Austin Dantzer (fifth inning).
Blake Cleveland launched the Panthers’ first homer — a two-run blast in the first inning. Freshmen lead-off hitter Hunter Lane singled and scored on the homer.
McCoy pitched all eight innings for NorthWood, striking out four and delivering 125 pitches plus his homer, two runs batted in and two runs scored.
Lane led off the Panther eighth by reaching on a dropped third strike and scored two pitches later on McCoy’s round-tripper.
“He’s a competitor,” said Benko. “That’s what we expect out of Kyle.”
VanMeter was the third pitcher used by Norwell. Junior righthander Jonah Patten worked in the fourth before giving way to senior righthander Luke Hunter.
NorthWood also executed four sacrifice bunts (McCoy, juniors Tanner Cleveland and Will Kirkwood and sophomore Dominic Miranda) and turned a sixth-inning double play — second baseman Blake Cleveland to shortstop Lane to first baseman Ervin.
“It was our style of ball,” said Benko. “It was a clean game. We can play station to station baseball and make sure they don’t get momentum by turning a double play.”
Benko, in his third season as head coach, called Tuesday’s game “another step for the program.”
Tuesday was also supposed to be the day that Zach and Jessica Benko had their first child. The plan now calls for the baby to be born Thursday, June 6.
3A Bellmont Regional
Norwell 9, NorthWood 8, 8 Innings
Norwell 101 240 01 — 9 14 2
NorthWood 202 101 20 — 8 7 1
Jonah Patten, Luke Hunter (4; 5 strikeouts), Josh VanMeter (7, W, 12-1; 5 strikeouts); Kyle McCoy (L) and Tanner Cleveland.
Norwell: Hits — Spencer Newell 3, Hunter 2, VanMeter 2, Tailur Szalenski 2, Austin Dettmer 2, Austin Dantzer 2. HR — Newell 2, Szarenski, Dettmer, Dantzer, VanMeter. 2B — Newell. RBI — Newell 3, Dantzer 2. Runs — Newell 2.
NorthWood: Hits — Hunter Lane 2, Blake Cleveland 2. HR — B. Cleveland, McCoy. 2B — B. Cleveland. RBI — B. Cleveland 2, McCoy 2. Runs — B. Cleveland 2, McCoy 2, Hunter Lane 2.
T — 2:15.
Records: Norwell 31-3, NorthWood 17-8.
Next: Norwell vs. Western in Class 3A northern semistate at South Bend or Kokomo Saturday, June 8.