North Hills fights back to win section showdown with nemesis Shaler

Monday, April 22, 2024 | 10:54 PM

You could say the Section 3-5A game for first place between Shaler and North Hills was indeed a battle as five hit batters was physically taxing for both sides with one player per team being sidelined.

You could say the Titans and Indians contest was a wild one, since six combined wild pitches played a big part in each team’s offensive production.

There were balks and errors and mental miscues that turned this showdown ugly at times, but in the end, it was a thing of beauty for the Indians.

North Hills came from behind four times to outlast defending district and state champion Shaler and hold on to first place in the section with a big 9-8 win.

“We try to murky up the game a little bit. We don’t have the big names some of the other teams have, but our group is coming together and doing what we have to do,” North Hills coach Jon Pedrosky said. “Our two-strike hitting and putting the ball in play makes a massive difference.”

The victory was especially sweet for the Indians because in last year’s section series, with both teams fighting for first place, Shaler laid the wood to North Hills, winning both games by a combined score of 21-0 to take control of the section for good.

“This was a tribute to them to put that all behind them,” Pedrosky said. “This is a different year, and every year is a new challenge with new kids.”

Each team scored a run in the second inning, then the Titans took the lead in the third without a hit. Senior Brady McGuire walked, stole second, went to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch.

In the fourth inning, Shaler scored three more runs.

With runners at first and second with no outs, senior Brady Alexander bunted the first pitch foul, then smacked a two-run double to right-center field. He scored on a single by senior Alex Venezia.

North Hills answered and chased Shaler starter Colby Weber in the bottom of the fourth.

Senior Zach Khan led off with a double, only the second hit allowed by Weber. With one out and the bases loaded following a hit batter and walk, junior Austin Hagerman hit into a fielder’s choice to score one run, then on an errant throw, Sam Henc scored from second base for a second run. Hagerman later scored on an RBI single by junior Tristan Weiman.

The fielder’s choice that scored two runs ended the day for the junior Weber, who allowed two earned runs in 3⅔ innings, giving up two hits while walking two, hitting two batters and striking out four.

“We beat a very good pitcher,” Pedrosky said. “Our kids are getting a chance to see some very good pitching, and I’m proud of how disciplined we’ve been. We got Weber out, and if you can get some of these top guys out who are so talented and get to some of these bullpens, it’s a tribute to our kids.”

Shaler responded with three runs in the top of the fifth inning to chase North Hills starting pitcher Jake Pollaro. A sacrifice bunt by junior Luke Jarzynka, a drop of a shallow fly ball and another run-producing hit by Venezia put the Titans up, 8-4.

A Henc RBI double and a Connor Davis run-scoring groundout in the bottom of the fifth cut the Indians’ deficit to 8-6.

The North Hills comeback was completed in the bottom of the sixth inning. Hagerman singled off Titans reliever Dominic Twigg, freshman Cooper Ravenstahl doubled, and Hagerman scored on a sacrifice fly to center field by Weiman.

Senior Nick Strothers delivered a pinch-hit single, Logan Hunt tied the game with a double and later, Henc chased home the go-ahead run with a bases-loaded one-out groundout to third base.

Senior Austin Bakowski made his first appearance of the season and struck out the side in a 1-2-3 top of the seventh inning to secure the victory for Davis in relief.

“This is the first time Austin has thrown since March 15,” Pedrosky said. “He’s been dinged up with some back inflammation and we’ve been missing him. If we can get healthy and catch our stride, who knows?”

Pollaro came out of the game for the Indians after getting hit on the right elbow with a pitch while the Titans lost Ben Yeckel after he was twice hit by a pitch in the wrist area.

Shaler falls to 4-3 in the section and 9-3 overall as it slips two games behind the leaders with three section games remaining.

North Hills remains alone on top with a 6-1 section record and it improves to 8-2 for the season heading into the rematch with the Titans on Tuesday at Matulevic Field in Shaler.

“This was one good game between two good teams,” Pedrosky said. “This certainly isn’t our World Series. We expected to do what we did. The excitement was there because Shaler has had our number for quite a number of years, but this certainly isn’t where we stop. This doesn’t make out season. We got another one (Tuesday).”

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