The Rebels made the Cougars pay for their second-inning miscues, taking a 7-0 lead in the inning and turning it into a 10-0 victory and a semistate championship.
After retiring the side in order in the first, North Putnam starter Brayden Dahlstrom opened the second with a walk. A Matt Boyd single followed to put runners at first and second. After Dahlstrom struck out Josh Davis, another walk loaded the bases. The first run came when Nathan James singled in the next at-bat.
That's when the real trouble started for the Cougars. A Brad Herring grounder to second looked like routine double-play fodder, but second baseman Kyle Alcorn's toss got past shortstop Kyle Rooter, and the play turned into two runs instead of two outs. It was a play Cougar coach Norm Fish knew could have made a difference.
"One error turns the tide," he said. "If we turn that double play, we got out of there down 1-0."
"I think we all knew we could've got out of that inning with little damage," he added.
But the damage was to continue. Dahlstrom again walked the bases loaded on the next batter. After getting an out at home on a fielders' choice, the flood gates really opened. With the bases loaded, the Rebels' Todd Martin hit a monster home run to left center. The grand slam made the count 7-0.
After surrendering another single, Dahlstrom was done on the mound. He'd gone one-and-two-thirds innings, allowing seven runs on four hits and three walks. Fellow senior Brian Blaydes came on in relief, giving up one hit before retiring the final hitter on a groundout. After the game, Fish spoke of why he didn't make the move sooner.
"We were down 3-0, and I didn't think about taking Brayden out," he said. "Then we loaded the bases, and that would be a tough spot to bring Brian in. We had to throw a pitch to a good hitter (Martin), and he got the best of it."
Facing a 7-0 deficit, the Cougars seemed to start really pressing. In the first, The had put two runners on base against Rebel starter Davis. The pitcher had looked very hittable. After the run support of the second, the pitcher began to shut them down. North was hitless for the second, third and fourth innings, with runners only reaching on an error and a walk. They simply could not get anything going.
"Things change when you're down 7-0, there's no doubt about that," Fish said.
For his part, Blaydes did well in a very tough spot for the Cougars. He located his pitches well and kept the Rebel hitters off balance. In his five-and-one-third innings of relief, Blaydes allowed three runs on four hits and no walks. Most impressively, he struck out eight Rebel batters. The performance was made all the more impressive considering the long layoff Blaydes had. It was his first outing of the post season. The senior had not thrown in a game since North played Western Boone on May 21.
"He pitched very well," Fish said. "He had them guessing, and his breaking ball was working well."
On the other side, Davis continued to excel. He finished the game with a complete game shutout. He allowed just four hits and two walks while striking out three.
North Putnam was able to get a few hits in the late innings, but never seemed to put much together. In each of the last four innings, a batter would reach base, but another out would be made, whether it was by a fielder's choice or a base-running blunder, before the Cougars could mount a serious scoring threat.
"We just kept battling, but things just didn't go our way," Fish said. "That's just baseball. Sometimes the ball rolls your way, and sometimes it gets out of hand.
"It's one of those games. We didn't play our best."
The Cougars finish the season 25-7. They were Putnam County, West Central Conference, Sectional and Regional champions.
"I'm so proud of these guys," Fish said. "They had a great run and gave it all they had down to the wire."
"You couldn't ask for a better group of kids," he went on. "They've done everything I've asked of them all year."
He said he knew the future still looked good for Cougar baseball, but also regretted the seniors going out with such a lopsided loss.
"I wish the seniors the best of luck. It's hard to see them lose their last game," Fish said.
IHSAA Class 2A Southridge Semistate
South Spencer 070 100 2 -- 10 8 2
North Putnam 000 000 0 -- 0 4 4
Davis and Guinto (SP). B. Dahlstrom, Blaydes (2) and Berry (NP).
W -- Davis (10-0)
L -- B. Dahlstrom (5-3)
HR -- Martin (SS)
The Cougars finished the season 25-7.