BAINBRIDGE -- What a difference a day makes.
After North Putnam beat South Putnam 19-5 on the Eagles' home field Monday, Tuesday's rematch at North Putnam seemed like a mismatch.
Fortunately, that was not the case.
The Cougars put up two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to get a 5-4 come-from-behind win and take the outright lead in the WCC title chase.
The North (11-2, 7-1 WCC) began with a David Church walk. Tyler Watson then laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance pinch runner C.J. Lofton to second base. A J.T. Francies infield hit and a Kyle Rooker intentional walk later, the Cougars had the bases loaded with just one out.
Cougar coach Norm Fish attempted a squeeze play, but Kyle Alcorn popped the bunt foul. But when a pitch in the dirt got away from the catcher, Lofton came home for the tying run.
With the leadoff hitter Francies at third and still just one out, Fish felt good about his chances at this point.
"J.T. Francies did a great job," Fish said. "I wouldn't want anybody at third base other than him in that situation. I knew that on something just about anywhere, he was going to score. We got about the worst possible scenario, a blooper, but he still made it."
That blooper was all they needed, though. The Alcorn pop-up sent South second baseman Adam Hammond into shallow right field to make the catch. After a tag, Francies was on his way, beating the throw that pulled Eagle catcher Derek Dean off the line.
The Cougars had done it, scoring two runs in the final inning without a hit.
"It was one of them games I thought it would be," Fish said. "I thought it would come down to the last batter. We shot ourselves in the foot to let it get to that point, but regardless, I thought it would."
For the Eagles (8-4, 6-2 WCC), the game was a major step forward after Monday's blowout. A loss is a loss, but to standing toe-to-toe with North after Monday was promising for coach Harold Campbell.
"I told the kids that this is the proudest I've been of them in my two years. They came in tonight expecting to win the ball game," Campbell said.
This time the senior hit a two-run shot to put the Cougars up 3-0.
"North Putnam jumped out with a home run, then a two-run home run," Campbell said. "We very easily could have said, 'Here we go again. We can't play with these guys.' But they knew we were going to get our runs and they knew we could win this ball game. They played great."
Down 3-0, the Eagles battled back in the fourth. Each of the first three batters put down ground balls and the Cougar infield misplayed each one. After four errors in just three plays, Derek Dean scored to get the Eagles on the board. A John Spencer groundout then drove in Brice Steinbaker.
Nathan Welty then drove in Brayden Freeman on an error. A Drew Cash RBI single closed out the scoring for the inning, but the Eagles had taken a 4-3 lead.
The onslaught drove NP starter Dahlstrom from the mound, bringing Rooker to the hill. Fish was happy with how Rooker maintained control, especially since he had committed some errors earlier in the inning.
"Kyle did a great job there and filled a big spot for us, especially after the inning he had in the field," Fish said. "He grabbed the baseball and just threw and got us to where we needed to be."
With the damage done, Fish simply told his team to stay in it.
"We had an inning we could have just folded. We gave up four and we were still just down one run," the coach said. "I told the kids, 'That's our bad inning and we're still in this ballgame. Let's just keep ourselves in position to win it.'"
The Cougars were able to do so, holding the Eagles scoreless for the remainder and scrapping together a seventh-inning rally.
While the coaches agreed Tuesday's game was much more fun than Monday's, the contest was not without its mistakes on both sides of the field. The Cougars committed six errors on the evening, five of them in the fourth inning. South Putnam left nine runners on base in the game.
Both teams missed signs, missed bunt opportunities and misplayed balls in the field. The Cougar coaches left thinking the win could have come more easily. The Eagle coaches were left thinking the victory could have gone their way.
"Baseball's a game of catch the ball, throw the ball. And we kind of butchered it up, kicked it around," South Putnam Assistant Coach Emmitt Carney said. "The little details hurt us tonight -- missed bunts, missed signals. Mental errors are key every time. Physical errors, we can deal with. But the mental errors are something that set you back."
"There's still just a few little things we're not getting down," Campbell added. "Two or three times in this game, if we lay the bunt down, innings keep going, we mover runners into scoring position. We knew that their defense was suspect. All we had to do was put the ball in play and good things were going to happen."
Moving forward, both head coaches like were their squads are. For Fish and the Cougars, they are all alone atop the WCC. For Campbell and the Eagles, they are playing the best baseball they've played in the coach's two-season tenure.
"I like what I'm seeing. If they play the way they played today for the rest of the year, it's going to be a special season for us," Campbell said.
The Eagles host Riverton Parke at 4:30 p.m. Friday. North hosts Tri-West at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
At North Putnam
South Putnam 000 400 0 -- 4 8 2
North Putnam 102 000 2 -- 5 3 6
Boswell and Dean; Dahlstrom, Rooker (4), Berry (7) and Berry and Dahlstrom (7).
WP -- Berry.
LP -- Boswell.
2B -- Welty 2, Hammond (SP).
HR -- Rooker 2 (NP).
Next game -- South Putnam (8-4, 6-2 WCC) hosts Riverton Parke at 4:30 p.m. Friday. North Putnam (11-2, 7-1 WCC) hosts Tri-West at 4:30 p.m. Friday.