CLAYTON -- Bunting is not an easy task.
And bunting under pressure is even more difficult.
But on Thursday, the North Putnam High School baseball team turned it into an art form, bunting in five straight at-bats in the fourth inning to notch the only run it needed in a 2-0 win over Monrovia to advance to the finals of the Class 2A Cascade Sectional.
North Putnam (20-7) will face county rival South Putnam in the finals today at 7 p.m.
Griffen Dahlstrom led off the fourth with a bunt-single, which was followed by another bunt-single by Jordan Berry. Elijah Elliott followed with another bunt, setting up the game's first run.
Luke Woolums stepped up to the plate and laid down another bunt. Monrovia pitcher Herschel Smith was unable to field the ball, allowing Dahlstrom to cross home plate.
"We hit the ball into the air too much early," North Putnam Coach Brett Motz said. "(Bunting) worked out for us early."
The run gave Kyle Rooker all the cushion he needed. But the hurler got into some trouble in the bottom of the sixth.
Monrovia's Andrew Grismore and Bobby Hensley led off the frame with back-to-back singles and Rooker then walked Smith.
Rooker was replaced by Jake Mullis. Following the replacement, Grismore was called out trying to steal home and Mullis mowed down Paul Ludlow with a strikeout before Jerrett Ban made a diving catch in right field off the bat of Joey Monteleone to preserve the shutout.
"Big games bring out the best in guys," Motz said. "That was huge. You can't get any bigger than that. It was unreal."
Mullis then provided North Putnam all the insurance it needed in the top of the seventh. With one out, Scott Hunt singled. With pinch-runner Kyle Alcorn on base, Mullis smacked a double, driving in Alcorn to give the Cougars a 2-0 lead.
Rooker lasted five innings, giving up three hits and walking one while striking out two.
In his two innings of work, Mullis fanned four to earn the save.
"Kyle did a good job through five innings, but you've got to do anything to win the game," Motz said of the pitching change.
Offensively, the Cougars pounded out seven hits in the win. Mullis and Shelby Reed were both 2-for-4 to lead North Putnam while Scott Hunt, Dahlstrom and Berry all had singles.
Motz said he knows his team is in for a tough game today against the Eagles.
"It's going to be a battle," he said.
North Putnam 000 100 1 -- 2 7 3
Monrovia 000 000 0 -- 0 3 0
Rooker, Mullis (6) and Berry; Smith and Hensley
WP -- Rooker
LP -- Smith
S -- Mullis
2B -- Mullis (NPHS)
Next Game -- The Cougars (20-7) face South Putnam at 7 p.m. today in the sectional finals.