A region that has had no shortage of twists and turns so far this season just got even more interesting on Tuesday.
Behind a strong effort on the mound from Drew Haywood and 11 hits at the plate, Northside claimed its fourth straight Region 1-AAAAA victory with a 9-3 triumph at Hardaway. Coupled with Columbus’ loss to LaGrange, Northside, once the potential odd team out in the race for the playoffs, is now just one game back of Columbus in the loss column for the region lead.
“Yeah, it was definitely big,” Patriots coach Dee Miller said of the win after the game. “Anytime you can beat a team like Hardaway, it’s a big deal. Now we’re kind of getting down to it in the region and every game just means that much more.”
After Tuesday’s action, the region standings are as follows: Columbus, 8-3, Northside, 8-4, Harris County, 7-4, LaGrange, 6-4, Hardaway, 7-5.
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As recently as two weeks ago, a region championship seemed like a long shot for the Patriots, who had struggled to gain much traction in league play. After four straight victories, though, it appears as more than just a slim possibility.
Northside played as if it was within reach on Tuesday, having great success in all three phases of the game. On the mound, Drew Haywood was dominant for the first five innings before finally running into a little trouble in the sixth. At the plate, the Patriots strung hits together in four of the seven innings, notching two runs in the second, three in the third, one in the sixth and three more in the seventh. Defensively, left fielder Marcus Eberhart made a fantastic over-the-fence grab to prevent a two-run homer in the fifth, and third baseman Tyler Pace made a diving stab to record a force out to end a sixth inning that had the potential of getting away from the Patriots.
“To win games like this, you’re going to have to have good at-bats and good pitching, but you’re also going to have to have good defense. Macus did a great job running back, kind of the no fear of just running until you catch it. Then Tyler with that diving stab with runners on first and second in the sixth really put that fire out that they had started. And they score in bunches. Anytime you can stop the fire defensively, you need that.”
Haywood was doing just fine on his own for most of the game. He allowed just four singles over the course of the first five innings. Eberhart’s catch on a fly ball that just kept traveling out to deep left field was the only major scare over that period. The home run would have cut Northside’s lead to 5-2, but instead the Patriots headed to the sixth with a 5-0 lead.
They added a run in the top of the sixth on an RBI single by Haywood to go up 6-0, but finally ran into a jam in the bottom half of the inning. After retiring the first two batters, Northside allowed Eric Manibusan to reach first on an error. Marcus Small followed with a single, then Chris Black beat out an infield single with an error on the throw that allowed all the runners to move up another base. Manibusan came around to score, and Small and Black moved to second and third. Small came home on a passed ball, and Black followed shortly thereafter on a single by R.J. Brown. After a walk to Tre’Von Dorsey put runners at first and second, Mykel Page roped a hard grounder to third base, but Pace dove to his right to field the ball and stepped on third for the final out of the inning.
Northside got all three runs back in the seventh, one of which came on a lead-off solo home run by Gage Brown, and Hardaway couldn’t cross the plate again.
In the winning effort, Haywood pitched 5 2/3, allowing three unearned runs.
“I didn’t have my best stuff, but throughout the game I figured out what I did have and didn’t have, so I was able to make some good pitched when I needed to,” Haywood said.
Offensively, Haywood had a hit and three RBIs in the game. Chantler Valero also went 3-for-3 with three doubles and a pair of RBIs.
Northside faces Harris County in another key region game on Thursday, while Hardaway gets a brief hiatus from league action against Troup County the same day.
Tuesday at Hardaway
Northside 023 001 3—9 11 2
Hardaway 000 003 0—3 7 2
WP—Drew Haywood. LP—Tre’Von Dorsey. Leading hitters—Northside, Drew Haywood 1-4, 3 RBIs, Bryce Delevie 2-2, 2B, Marcus Eberhart 1-3, RBI, R, Gage Brown 2-4, HR, RBI, 2 Rs, Tyler Pace 1-3, RBI, 2 Rs, Chantler Valero 3-3, 3 2Bs, 2 RBIs, 2 Rs; Hardaway, Tony Locey 2-3, Marcus Small 2-3, R. Record—Northside, 12-6, 8-4; Hardaway, 13-6, 7-5. Next—Northside, Thursday at Harris County; Hardaway, Thursday vs. Troup County at home.