ROACHDALE -- If the first game at the North Putnam boys' baseball sectional had gotten stomachs to do flip-flops, the second game had them jumping through rings and flying 100 m.p.h.
The hosts faced off against a Cascade squad that had downed the Cougars twice in conference play. The game never was out of reach for either side, but a seventh inning that will be remembered for markedly different reasons saw the Cadets eek out a 5-4 win.
North sent out freshman Kyler Badten to pitch the final first round match up but was down 1-0 before he really got going. A double by Chris Mink, coupled with a steal and a passed ball, gave the Cadets a quick lead.
The lead disappeared in the bottom of the frame.
Brody Perrine was situated on second after a walk and sacrifice bunt from Badten, when Tyler Watson stepped up to the plate and smashed a two run shot to center field, making the score 2-1.
A bases loaded scenario crept up for the Cougars in the second. Two errors against the Cadets saw men get to second and third before Shawn Diebold ripped a double that plated Brian Frazier. Perrine walked again, but the bases were left full when Badten flew out to center field.
Cascade loaded the bases in the third, but Badten held his nerve and recorded his fifth and sixth strikeouts of the contest to prevent any damage. He was not as lucky in the fourth when Alex Rivera doubled to leadoff the inning, was bunted over to third and scored on a ground ball to second, closing the gap to 3-2.
The Cougars would get their final run in the fifth by loading the bases on three straight walks and a single by Brock Jones to score Badten. Mychael Buchanan fought off several pitches, but was struck out to end the inning with the score 4-2.
Badten was holding on to the lead and worked out of a second and third jam in the sixth inning by ringing up Cadet designated hitter Colin Smith. The Cougars went down in order in the bottom of the sixth to set up what would be an unbelievable twist to the contest.
A hot shot by pinch-hitter Brandon Blinn should have been caught at third, but was missed, escaping into the outfield. A fly out to left and two walks later, the bases were loaded with clean-up hitter Alex Able at the plate.
The senior catcher flew out to right field to plate Blinn and edge the score to 4-3. The runners on first and second would advance on the throw to the plate, with Gage Hukill up to bat. Another senior, he had been struck out twice up to that point.
But calamity struck the Cougars as Badten threw wide of catcher Austin Day to allow Mink to score and tie the contest at 4-4.
Then, with Alex Arthur on third base, Cadet coach Jason Thompson made the gamble.
Midway through the at-bat, Thompson sent Arthur on a straight steal of home. The incoming pitch from Badten eluded the grasp of Day and the Cadets found themselves on top 5-4.
North had a chance in the bottom of the seventh, a chance that might have had more bite had a key call gone the Cougars' way.
After Perrine and Badten had struck out, Watson reached on an error by the Cadet defense. Blake Knowling stepped up to bat, and on a 1-1 appeared to have caught the glove of the Cascade catcher before he could make contact with the baseball.
The umpire and officials convened briefly after an appeal was launched, but the decision was left as a foul tip. Knowling fought off a couple of pitches before grounding out to second base to end the game.
It was a hard pill for coach Norm Fish and his team to swallow afterwards.
"You know, I thought we were in good shape heading into the seventh. They had their 9-1-2 hitters coming up. The first out was going to be huge," Fish said. "I don't know. We still felt pretty good about things, about making plays. Two things came up: a pitch getting to the backstop and them stealing home. Coach (Jason) Thompson got me on that one. I take the blame for that.
"The guys played their butts off, they played well enough to win from start to finish. We had a chance in the bottom of the seventh. The guys could have quit, but they didn't. You know, the interference call, it could have gone our way. They played good. One team had to lose tonight."
As the Cougar players trudged off the field, parts shock and disappointment spread on their faces, the fans still in the area gave them a standing ovation for what, in many eyes, should have been a sectional win. It might have been hardest for seniors Shawn Diebold, Mychael Buchanan and Brock Jones, Fish explained.
"The seniors, all three helped the young guys out this year. They stayed with it, and I'm proud as can be for them," Fish said. "It was tough. They're used to winning and we lost a lot early. The team got better as the year progressed.
"They're a proud group. They were upset that they lost and that's a good thing. It's a big step for them when losing doesn't feel good. The seniors, they did their part this year," he added.
Fish only had a few days before the future would become his new focus.
"We have a summer game Tuesday. There's a lot of youth coming up and I'm excited about the ones coming up and the guys we have here. The guys did every thing we asked of them this year. They played a good team today," Fish said.
"We'll remember this one for next year," he added.
At North Putnam
IHSAA Sectional No. 46
Cascade 100 100 3 -- 5 4 4
North Putnam 210 010 0 -- 4 4 2
WP -- Baldwin
LP -- Badten
2B -- Mink, Rivera (C)
HR -- Watson (NP)
RBI -- Smith, Able (C), Watson (2), Diebold, Jones (NP)