ELKHART — Even down 5-0, Elkhart Central baseball coach Steve Stutsman knew his veteran team wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Northridge coach Andrew Brabender knew too.
“We knew that with eight seniors, that Central wasn’t going away,’’ Brabender said. “They’re a confident group and with that kind of experience, they’re not going to panic being down in the third inning.
Both coaches were right, as the Blue Blazers scored four runs in the fifth inning to make it 5-4, but the Raiders’ Davis Enfield came in and shut the door, recording three strikeouts in the final two innings to hold the lead, as Northridge advanced to the Class 4A Elkhart Baseball Sectional title game with the one-run victory.
“It’s a disappointing loss for sure, but I am so proud of the way these kids fought,’’ Stutsman said. “We came back at them and had a couple chances to to tie or take the lead, but it just wasn’t to be tonight.’’
The Raiders took the lead in the bottom of the first inning on a double from junior Nick Logan that scored Cam Waters from second.
Northridge’s big inning was the third, which included a big scare for Elkhart Central pitcher Jared Miller.
Drew Gayler opened the inning with a double and would score when a pickoff throw from Blazer catcher Vinny Ambrose went into center field for an error.
After Waters walked, Northridge’s Cam Knepp hit a line drive right back at Miller, who was hit in the throat with the ball and went right down on his back. After several minutes, the senior got back up and told Stutsman he was fine and wanted to continue pitching.
“That’s the kind of kid he is,’’ Stutsman said. “He refused to come out of the game even though that ball hit him square in the throat. He’s just a very tough kid.’’
After Logan sacrificed the runners to second and third, Enfield stroked a single to score both runners. Enfield would eventually score on a passed ball to make it 5-0 Northridge.
Knepp, the Raiders’ starting pitcher, had a no-hitter through the first four innings, before the Central bats came alive in the fifth.
Zac Dempsey broke up the no-hitter with a line drive single, followed by a double by Alex Rasler down the line in left. Dempsey would score on a ground out, while Rasler came around on a single by Miller to make it 5-2.
Brycen Sherwood then singled, before Jake Shreiner – who had relieved Miller in the third inning – laid down a perfect bunt single to load the bases with one out. Senior Patrick Yeakey then drove in two runs with another single and suddenly the Blazers were within a run.
Brabender came out to talk to Knepp, but he stayed with his starter and the junior responded, beating Ambrose on a one-hopper back to the mound fro the second out, before ending the inning on a strikeout.
Northridge would go with Enfield to start the sixth and the talented junior did the job, allowing just two walks in the final two innings to record a save.
Dempsey reached second base in the sixth on a walk and sacrifice, but he was caught in a run down between second and third when a pitch in the dirt didn’t get far enough past Northridge catcher Hayden Nickell and the junior fired to third base.
Enfield issued a two out walk to Shreiner in the seventh, but he rebounded to strike out Yeakey to end the game with Shreiner on second.
“When we saw Central earlier this season, Knepp was hurt and didn’t pitch,’’ Brabender said. “I though he was really good for the first inning, but then he lost command on his curve and it allowed them to sit in his fastball. When he started to elevate it, they did what a good hitting team does and started to find their groove.’’
In addition to earning the win, Knepp had two hits for the Raiders, as did senior Logan Pratt. Miller took the loss for Central, giving up six hits in two-plus innings.
“I told the kids after the game that you’re going to get knocked down in life and have disappointments,’’ Stutsman said. “We had our best two pitchers going tonight and Northridge was able to get us. It’s tough, but we’ll be back.’’
Northridge will face Warsaw at approximately 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the sectional semifinals. The Tigers beat Concord 11-0 to advance.
NORTHRIDGE 5, ELKHART CENTRAL 4
Central 000 040 0 — 4 6 1
Northridge 104 000 0 — 5 7 2
Jared Miller (L), Jake Shreiner (3); Cam Knepp (W), Davis Enfield (6, S)
Central: 2B – Alex Rasler. RBI – Patrick Yeakey 2.
Northridge: Hits – Knepp 2, Logan Pratt 2. 2B – Logan Pratt, Drew Gayler. RBI – Enfield 2.