SPRINGFIELD — On Thursday, May 26, Tri-County North faced off against North Lewisburg Triad in the Division 4 Region 16 baseball semifinals. The Panthers played a hard-fought game, but after eight innings, fell 2-1, ending their season.
These two teams were part of the “Sweet Sixteen” in the quest for the state championship. For the Panthers, it was just the third time since 1983 the team made it to the regionals.
“We just made some mistakes in key situations and in this level of baseball, it will cost you a ballgame,” North coach Justin Tucker said.
The first inning was quick for both teams, as Triad pitcher Shane Ford threw only five pitches to force a three-and-out on the Panthers. North pitcher Tanner Booth responded in kind by throwing only eight pitches to retire the side despite allowing a base hit from lead off batter Dalon Holycross from the Cardinals. In the second inning, North’s Jordan Overcash reached base on a fielding error but was left on base and unable to score. Likewise for the Cardinals, as one of their batters was hit by a pitch, only making it to first as the Panther defense held firm.
With only five pitches once again, Triad’s Ford retired North in the third inning. TCN’s first two batters, Bailey Lairson and Liam Downing, grounded out on their first pitch.
Garrett Woodyard went out on strikes to end the top of the third.
Things then got scary for North, as the Cardinals amassed a double, followed by a single in the bottom of the third with runners in scoring position and only one out.
Once again, however, the Panthers held on by forcing the second and third outs on a line drive to Overcash at second base, and a fly out to Logan Elmore.
The fourth inning saw Tri-County North’s Zach Edgin hit a hard base hit. One fly out later, power-hitter Chandler Sproles cracked a double down the right field line to place runners in scoring position. But, same as the Cardinals, the Panthers suffered two straight fly outs to leave men on base.
Not until the fifth inning did the scoreboard change, when North started off with a base hit from Bo Hendrickson. Bailey Lairson advanced the runner to second on a bunt that nearly saw Lairson reach base safely on a lazy throw to first. Liam Downing was up next and hit a single to put runners on the corners.
Next up was Collin Whipp, who’s base hit brought Hendrickson in home for the first run of the game.
The Cardinals were able to tie the game up in the sixth, however. A base hit, followed by a sacrifice bunt and a critical North fielding error allowed Triad’s Trevor Instine to cross the plate to tie the game.
The seventh inning saw both teams go three up, and three down. The eighth inning was nonproductive for North, with another three-and-out series. But the bottom of the eighth was the tell-tale inning. Once again, Cardinal catcher Instine reached base on yet another critical fielding error. Triad’s Timmy Marsalis botched a bunt attempt to create the first out, and Briley Harlan knocked in a single but was unable to advance Instine to third. At the next at bat, Isaiah Bruce hit a tough shot to center field, just outside the reach of the North outfielder’s glove, to score the game-winning run.
Tri-County North ended their season with a 17-11 overall record, while earning both the sectional and district titles for only the third time in school history.
“I think we did great. We started out with three freshmen playing, very young with only three starting seniors coming back after losing eight seniors the year before,” said Coach Tucker. “I think they came a long way. We were only the third team in Tri-County history to make it into the regionals. They are in the top one percent of all teams, so I think they did a great thing.”
Booth pitched for the entire game, had five strikeouts and allowed only six hits and one walk. Edgin, Sproles, Hendrickson, Downing, Woodyard and Overcash, each had one hit for the Panthers. Tri-County North had three errors, with two of them resulting in the eventual runs scored by the Cardinals. The Panthers only struck out twice against Triad winning pitcher, Ford.
A disappointed, but proud Tucker spoke on next year’s potential: “We lose four seniors (Elmore, Woodyard, Overcash, and Anthony Duncan), three whom played a lot for us. But we bring a lot back so that’s exciting — but it all comes down to who works hard the most in the off-season. How much better they get will tell the tale.”