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Vikings cruise to Sectional win

STRIKEOUTS: Senior pitcher Mason Anderson changed the course of Wednesday’s Sectional Quarterfinal game by recording three consecutive strikeouts after allowing Wayne to load the bases with no outs in the bottom of the second inning. Anderson and the Vikings went on to win the game 8–2.

by Eric Andrews - eandrews@h-ponline.com

Despite a potentially precarious start, the Huntington North baseball team picked up an 8–2 Sectional Quarterfinal win over Wayne at Huntington University’s Forest Glen Park on Wednesday night.

The victory extended the Vikings’ current winning streak to five games and earned them a spot in the Sectional Semifinals.

Huntington North, designated as the away team, had the first good scoring chance of the game when a fielder’s choice throw beat a sliding senior pitcher Mason Anderson to the plate in the top of the first inning to keep the game knotted at 0–0.

Wayne, who entered the contest with an 8–16 record, appeared to be on their way to opening the game’s scoring in the bottom of the second after loading the bases with no outs. However, after a meeting at the mound with the infield and head coach Jarod Hammel, Anderson settled in and went to work, fanning the next three General batters to get out of the jam unscathed.

“My mindset during the bases loaded (jam) was that I knew it was still a tight game, nothing had happened yet and once coach Hammel came out to calm me down, I knew I needed to focus and just relax,” Anderson said. “The rest of it just happened. I hit my spots well and my breaking ball really worked for me that inning. After I got those three strikeouts, I couldn’t really describe a better feeling other than what it would feel like to win this thing, so when I got us out of the jam I put us into, it was just a huge relief. I noticed it did get everyone fired up, too, and I think it gave the team just a sign of hope that even in the pressured situations we can pull through it.”

Anderson’s bases-loaded strikeout trifecta clearly changed the course of the game, as the Vikings started the third inning with new-found life after what could have been a disastrous start to a do-or-die matchup.

Huntington North loaded up the bases themselves in the top of the third and broke the deadlock when senior catcher Keegan Bartrom walked to bring in Anderson and give the Vikings a 1–0 lead.

The ensuing at-bat would go on to be an adventurous one, as senior second baseman Nathan Hall reached first on a fielder’s choice as senior shortstop Zach Daugherty was forced out at home. However, the Wayne catcher decided to try doubling up the Vikings and threw the ball away in the process, allowing senior third baseman Trey Williams and Bartrom to both come home to score and quickly push the Huntington North advantage to 3–0.

“Mason was pretty amped up at the start of this game,” Hammel said. “I saw it in one of his base-running reads and I saw it from him on the mound. Him having the ability to turn the page a little bit, settle down and then work out of that jam was a tremendous lift for us. We were able to play from in front after we got out of that. Those first runs are always big and tough to get and gritty and we found a way to come up with them.”

The Vikings picked up in the fourth where they left off, tacking on another trio of runs, this time compliments of a run by sophomore left fielder Brooks Nicely on a bobble by the Wayne defense, an Anderson RBI double down the left field line to plate sophomore right fielder Matthew Schnepp and a Daugherty RBI sacrifice fly to bring in Anderson to double the Huntington North lead to a commanding 6–0 margin.

Daugherty and Anderson again teamed up to add another run in the sixth, as a deep RBI triple brought in Anderson to push the Viking advantage to 7–0.

Huntington North added one final run in the top of the seventh thanks to a Nicely RBI single to score Hall for a lopsided 8–0 lead in the final inning.

The Generals rallied in the bottom of the seventh to plate a pair of runs and break up the shutout, but the comeback bid was too little, too late, as the Vikings advanced in the Sectional tournament with an 8–2 decision.

“We’re pretty good when we play from in front,” Hammel said. “I was proud of our effort on the mound. It’s just so great to walk away with a win today. … Our aggressiveness on the bases paid off; kinda knowing some things about Wayne in advance helped us to be exceptionally aggressive, which was a big lift. Once the third run scored, it frees us up to do some things offensively and take some gambles and some chances that maybe we might not have otherwise (been) able to take. That was the big difference. Our guys stayed hungry on the bases and that was a big lift as well.”

Anderson picked up the win on the mound for Huntington North, giving up two hits and no runs while striking out a total of four Wayne batters over the course of the first three innings.

Senior pitcher Levi Bennett came on in relief for his first action since the Vikings’ home opener and allowed just one hit while striking out five Generals in two innings of work.

Williams shifted to the mound to close out the game and gave up two hits and two earned runs in two innings of work while striking out two Wayne batters.

With the win, Huntington North advanced to the Sectional Semifinals, where they will face South Side on Friday night.