NAPPANEE — NorthWood High School's baseball team finds itself in the Bellmont Regional for the third time in four seasons, starting with a matchup against the Yorktown Tigers.
Panthers coach Zach Benko knows that Yorktown has had an "up and down season" but is playing its best ball at the right time of the year and plays a strong schedule.
But the focus for Benko's team won't be on the Tigers or any of the other regional qualifiers — it’ll be on playing "NorthWood baseball."
"When we play NorthWood baseball, there is not a whole lot of people who can beat us," said Benko, who is in his fourth season as NWHS head coach. "NorthWood baseball is built on pitching and defense. Those are the two factors — game in and game out — that can be far more consistent than hitting.
The 2014 Panthers (21-5) won three games — 13-5 against Tippecanoe Valley, 11-6 against Whitko and 7-2 against Fairfield — to take the Whitko Sectional and will move on to the next phase of the IHSAA tournament Saturday, June 7, in Decatur.
Saturday, June 7
Lake Central (21-10) vs. Concord (15-15), 11:30 a.m. ET.
Hobart (25-5) vs. Penn (27-4), follows.
Championship, 8 p.m.
NorthWood (21-5) vs. Yorktown (16-12), 11 a.m.
Fort Wayne Dwenger (17-11) vs. Norwell (18-8), follows.
Championship, 8 p.m.
Lafayette Central Catholic (25-6) vs. Hammond Noll (22-7), 11 a.m. ET.
Westview (20-5) vs. Fort Wayne Canterbury (19-5), follows.
Championship, 7 p.m. ET.
NorthWood will play Yorktown (16-12) in the first semifinal at 11 a.m. The winner of that game meets the winner of Fort Wayne Wayne (17-11) against Norwell (18-8) at 8 p.m. Saturday.
"We're not perfect, but we do the small things like not making mental mistakes, making the routine play and making the other team make mistakes and taking advantage of them," Benko said.
Sometimes, it's more than routine.
Benko notes two extraordinary defensive plays during the sectional. Center fielder Tanner Farmwald robbed a home run in right-center against Whitko and right fielder Dominic Miranda made a sliding sixth-inning catch in foul territory to retire No. 3 hitter Austin Christner in the Fairfield game.
"That was a pretty big play," Benko said. "(Fairfield) was in the heart of their lineup."
NorthWood has gotten steady pitching performances from Vincent Miranda, Chad Sellers, Drew Minnich and Tanner Cleveland.
"We've been in a jam here or there," Benko said. "But we've always been able to get out of it with a few plays."
Showing balance on offense, the Panthers got at least one hit from every batter in the lineup against Fairfield.
"We've done a real nice job this year of two-strike hitting," Benko said. "We put the ball in play and challenge the other team to field it.
"Giving yourself a chance is a big part of it."
NorthWood, coming off the eighth sectional title in program history, took eventual state champion Norwell into extra innings in 2013 before bowing 9-8.
"It's neat to see these teams year after year," Benko said. "They are good solid program. The players are buying in and are coachable. That (approach) is starting to pay off for us as well."