SHEPHERDSVILLE - That first game of the district tournament is the one that worries most coaches.
No matter how well you have done in the regular season, a loss will pack your cleats for the summer.
And when you’re tied at 1-1 in the fifth inning against a team you handily defeated earlier in the season, the nerves might be a bit more tense.
But, thanks to a change in strategy, a couple of breaks and back-to-back doubles, the North Bullitt Eagles advanced to the championship game of the 23rd District baseball tournament.
With Brandon Johnson throwing a two-hitter, North Bullitt has an opportunity to win back-to-back district titles after defeating Moore 8-1 on Monday night.
“This one scared me to death,” Eagle head coach Brian Wise said following the victory.
On Wednesday, the Eagles will face the winner of Tuesday night’s semifinal game between Southern and host Bullitt Central.
Both of the championship game teams will advance to the Sixth Region tournament, which starts on Memorial Day.
On Monday night, Wise gave the ball to Johnson, who has had a big senior season both as a starter and as a closer.
“He did exactly what we hoped for,” Wise said of Johnson.
He gave up just two hits and the lone run was unearned.
With Johnson throwing on Monday, Wise will have Josh Exton and Jacob Kelly both available for the title game.
While the coaches talked with the players about the importance of jumping on top early in the opener, Wise got a sense in the pre-game warmups that things were different.
He said it was the most quiet he’s heard a team during a district tournament game.
Some of that may have been the Interstate 65 noise which rattled through the Bullitt Central complex.
But, Wise said the team has been focused all year on the task at hand.
While the coaches may have been a bit nervous, Wise thought the players were confident that they would win the game, even with the 1-1 tie in the fifth.
North Bullitt jumped on top in the bottom of the first inning without the virtue of a hit.
Tyler Mayberry walked and then stole second. When Justin Stinson moved him along with a sacrifice bunt, Mayberry scored on a wild pitch from Moore pitcher Chris Warner, who played at nearby Blue Lick Optimist as a youngster.
The Mustangs would tie the score in the top of the third inning.
A leadoff walk was followed by a sacrifice bunt. While the runner was out at first, a throw to second got loose and the runner advanced to third. He would score on an error to tie the score.
Wise and the rest of the North Bullitt fans could rest a little easier in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Keaton Reitz reached on an error and Mayberry was hit by the pitch. Stinson’s sacrifice bunt was misplayed and the bases were loaded.
Logan Wyatt ripped a 3-RBI double to right field to clear the bases.
Jacob Kelly followed with an RBI double to deep left-center.
Chance Egnor finished off the inning with an RBI single to make it 6-1.
Prior to starting its at-bats in the fifth inning, Wise called his players together at first base.
The message was simple -- the umpire liked pitches which were on the outside edge. In order to reach them, Wise told his players to crowd the plate. Either they would get hit or they could reach the pitch and go to the opposite field.
“That adjustment worked well,” said Wise. “I felt like it was coming but it just took us a few innings.”
The final two runs scored in the sixth inning.
Ryan Henson singled and Reitz doubled. Mayberry’s sacrifice fly scored one run and Stinson’s fielder’s choice plated the final run.
Playing in so many close games against quality talent helped on Monday, said Wise.
In terms of coming back on Wednesday, the players know the importance of winning the district and having an opportunity at a better draw in the regional tournament.
“I just think we will play must better on Wednesday,” said Wise, whose team is now 24-10 on the season.