With the lead in the West Central Conference baseball standings on the line over two nights, round one went resoundingly to North Putnam Monday night. The Cougars beat county rival South Putnam 19-5 Monday afternoon on the Eagles' home field.
The second-inning run was the hard luck sort for South, as Cougar David Church hit a ball to the South Putnam left fielder, only to have the ball bounce out of his glove and over the fence.
However, the game got really out of hand in the third when Kyle Rooker and Kyle Alcorn led off the inning with back-to-back home runs. The next four batters all reached base, with Brock Jones finishing off South starter Brice Steinbaker's night with a three-run homer.
Steinbaker took the loss, allowing 10 runs on eight hits, two walks and four home runs.
Reliever Grant Zimmerman fared no better, allowing two more hits and issuing six walks before the inning was over.
All told, the Cougars scored 11 times in the inning, extending a 3-1 lead to a 15-1 lead.
North coach Norm Fish was very happy with the way his team is hitting the ball.
"I think we're playing with some confidence right now offensively, and that's what it takes. Hitting is 99 percent mental," Fish said.
For South Putnam coach Harold Campbell, the game turned into a teaching opportunity after the ugly third inning.
"We're a young team and we're learning every day. Sometimes you take a game like this and you have to use it as a learning experience," Campbell said. "One of the things we're looking for in our team is that they never give up. Some of our kids are starting to do that. Some still have yet to do that so we just have to keep pounding that home."
The Cougars added two runs in the fourth and two in the fifth, with Jordan Berry hitting a two-run shot in the fourth and Kyle Rooker adding a two-run homer in the fifth.
These two seniors led the potent Cougar attack on the evening. Berry was 5-for-5 with three doubles, a home run and five RBIs. Rooker was 2-for-3 with a pair of home runs and thee RBIs.
Sophomore Brock Jones has been on a tear of late, having hit four home runs in four games.
The Eagles, on the other hand, could not keep up with the Cougar output. Brayden Freeman drove in Steinbaker with a second-inning double. Cameron Chestnut scored on a wild pitch in the fifth.
The main bright spot for South came in the bottom of the fifth, when two straight players reached on errors before Noah Boswell hit a monster three-run shot that reached the infield of the softball diamond.
"You want to finish on a good note," Fish said "We played good offense for five innings, but we finished the game on kind of a sour note defensively. We just gotta keep playing."
However, Berry kept the Eagle hitters off balance most of the night. He allowed five runs on six hits and a walk while fanning nine Eagle batters.
"Jordan's a competitor and he really likes being out there. He works hard at it and he throws hard. That just carries over at the plate. He's staying focused and doing his job right now. You can't ask much more out of him," Fish said.
For both coaches, the challenge is now getting their players to forget about Monday and get ready for Tuesday's rematch at North Putnam. Campbell reminded his team that, in spite of Monday's score, the teams are still tied for the WCC lead.
"We're still excited. We know we still control our own destiny, as far as this next game. They've evened things up with us in terms of one loss in the conference," Campbell said.
"We're confident with what we're bringing tomorrow," he continued. "North Putnam probably feels like right now we're a team they can walk all over. We've just got to come out ready to fight and show them we're going give it everything we've got."
Fish is fighting hard against that kind of attitude from his team.
"We just have to keep that focus and not take anybody lightly. This score didn't mean anything because South is a good baseball team. They had young pitchers on the mound," Fish said. "I told our kids, 'Don't let that score do anything to you because we were facing young pitchers and we had a senior on the mound.'
"That's not really an indication of how close these teams are," Fish went on. "Tomorrow's gonna be a battle and we expect one. And we hope we'll be ready for it."
Noah Boswell will be on the hill today for South, matched up with the Cougars' Griffen Dahlstrom.
"We have a challenge against Noah Boswell tomorrow and we're excited about that," Fish said. "Our boys are wanting to play and we're excited about playing right now. We're having fun, but we're staying focused."
For the Eagles, their goal of a split with North Putnam is still within reach.
"We didn't get this first one, but that goal is still achievable if we do what we need to do tomorrow," Campbell said. "We expect to play great baseball and get that win tomorrow."
At South Putnam
North Putnam 31(11) 22 -- 19 15 2
South Putnam 01 1 02 -- 5 6 3
Berry and Dahlstrom; Steinbaker, Zimmerman (3), Freeman (7) and Dean.
WP -- Berry.
LP -- Steinbaker.
2B -- Berry 3 (NP), Freeman (SP).
HR -- Rooker 2, Church, Alcorn, Jones, Berry (NP), Boswell (SP).
Next game -- South Putnam (8-3, 6-1 WCC) visits North Putnam (10-2, 6-1 WCC) at 4:30 p.m. today.