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OKOLONA - The biggest play of the game won’t show up in the box score.
But North Bullitt head coach Brian Wise said Anthony Kennedy’s diving catch in centerfield in the first inning set the tone for the evening.
And it was a winning tone as the Eagles jumped out on top of the host Southern Trojans and then held on for an 8-5 semifinal victory in the 24th District baseball tournament.
The victory assured North Bullitt another trip to the Sixth Region tournament, which starts on Monday at St. Xavier High. It also advanced the Eagles to the district championship on Friday against Bullitt East.
“We still haven’t played our best baseball game,” said Wise, whose team went to 17-19 on the season. “But we played a pretty solid game.”
Having lost 4-3 to the Trojans two weeks earlier, North Bullitt did just what Wise hoped - jump on top early.
Facing Cody Baker for a second time, North Bullitt got things started when Tyler Shewmaker led off with a single. Jesse King walked and Cody Montgomery drove one run home with a single.
Reed Padgett brought home two more runs with a rope down the third-base line.
Up 3-0 after the first inning, Wise still felt that Kennedy’s diving catch in the top of the frame helped the entire team to relax.
With the lead, Montgomery held Southern to an infield single through five innings.
In the meantime, Wise was preaching for the Eagles to win each inning, which North Bullitt did with the exception of one.
After Kody Masterson came in to stop an Eagle rally in the second, North Bullitt plated two more runs in the third frame.
T.J. Barr walked and then scored on Mitchell Hutchison’s double. Kennedy was safe on a bunt and Shewmaker’s sacrifice fly plated Hutchison.
In the fourth, North Bullitt scored when Marcel Hull, Padgett and Barr hit back-to-back-to-back singles.
In the fifth, Jared Abell had an infield single and would eventually score on an error.
Montgomery was sailing through the game when the Trojans put up a five-spot.
Masterson walked and Baker singled. A walk to Matt Harris was followed by a double from Blake Hall, who went to third on an error.
Brett Cox singled home a run and Sam Rein followed with a double.
With runners on second and third and no outs, Wise made a pitching change.
With the score 7-4, Barr allowed a fielder’s choice by Jeffrey Fortwengler to plate a run to close the gap to two.
However, he then struck out Michael Teague and got J.R. Belt to fly out.
The Eagles got one of the runs back in the bottom of the sixth.
Hull singled and Barr drove him home with a single.
In the seventh, Southern would reach on an infield single by Baker and a walk to Harris; however, Barr shut the door by getting Rein to pop out to Shewmaker and then struck out Cox.
The Eagles had 10 hits with Montgomery getting the win and Barr the save.
“We felt like we had the better team and the better team should win most times,” said Wise. “This year, we just haven’t found a way to win.”
There was no talk of revenge against Southern but he said the team has good senior leadership and they wanted another opportunity to return to the regional tournament.
“We played a good ball game but we still had three errors,” said Wise. “But we have to score enough runs to overcome that.”
The skipper was proud that Hutchison had a good night in the field and at the plate. And he was proud of the courage shown by Montgomery.
“He got into a little trouble early but then he finishes innings with back-to-back strikeouts,” said Wise. “That’s huge for his confidence.”
In the sixth, Wise said he felt the warm conditions and a high pitch count led to Montgomery’s running out of gas.
“Cody was tremendous through five innings,” said Wise. “That’s exactly what we needed from him.”
The decision to bring in Barr wasn’t difficult for Wise.
“Coach (Chris) Kelly and I knew T.J. would throw strikes and you have to beat him if you’re a hitter,” said Wise. “You bring in a pitcher with two on and no outs. I couldn’t ask for any more than what he did.”
Even in the seventh, Wise said there was no thoughts of going to the bullpen when Southern got two runners on base.
“It never got to the point I was ready to pull him,” said Wise. “He doesn’t walk batters and he keeps the ball down.”