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Norse let lead slip, fall to Giants at home

PITCH: Northfield’s Nate Drancik throws a pitch during the Norse’s game against Marion on Tuesday.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

For the third time in as many games this season, the Northfield baseball team held a lead. For the third time this season, a comeback doomed them.

Squaring off at home against Marion, the Norse took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning only to see it all come undone in the sixth as a two-run homer from Marion’s AJ Mitchner proved to be the difference in the Giants’ 3-1 win.

“It’s starting to be fun,” Marion head coach Mark Fagan said. “Usually, we would roll over when we get down 1-0. This year, we’ve battled back the last couple of games. We get behind and seem to battle back and take the lead.

“We battled back. Ethan (Dixon) pitched one heck of a ball game for us. Took attitude on the mound today. AJ hit a great shot for us. It was, all in all, a good day.”

Northfield needed to manufacture a run to take the lead midway through the contest, using a walk and a single before a passed ball to move ahead 1-0.

Even in the sixth inning, which proved to be the decisive one, the Norse had two outs with a runner on second base. But a single to left field plated a run to tie the game before Mitchner unloaded on a full-count pitch, sending a towering shot over the fence in left to give Marion it’s 3-1 lead.

“The biggest thing is you can’t sit on leads in high school,” Northfield head coach Clint Davis said. “I don’t think necessarily we did that this time. I felt we did at Blackhawk. But it’s the opportunities that present themselves in the second, third and fourth inning that gets you beat in one-run, two-run ball games in the sixth and seventh innings. You just can’t let things like this snowball. Because we’re two-and-a-half weeks in, it feels like we haven’t won in six years. But in the big scheme of things, we’re three games in.”

Aside from those two innings, neither offense had much going for it on the night as Northfield’s Nate Drancik and Marion’s Ethan Dixon each silenced the opposing bats much of the evening.

Northfield finished the contest with just two hits on the night. Marion, though, was held to three hits with one of them being the home run.

The Giants did offer the best non-scoring threat on the night during the third inning. After consecutive outs to start the frame, an error and consecutive walks loaded the bases before Drancik induced a grounder back to the mound for the final out.

Drancik would be chased out of the game after allowing the homer, though, going 5.2 innings and allowing three hits, three runs and two walks with nine strikeouts. Jonah Truman stepped in for 1.1 innings of relief without allowing a hit, a walk or a run while striking out one.

“Nate was good on the mound,” Davis said. “That one pitch shouldn’t define what he did for five innings. That’s the Nate we needed him to be. He got himself into trouble and got out of it. Good things early in the season from who we assume is going to be our No. 1. And then Jonah comes in and gets us out (of the inning) and that’s what’s going to have to happen. When we get into tournament play and doubleheaders and things like that, we’re going to need a kid to come out of the bullpen and shut it down.”

Dixon, though, was nearly untouchable on the night as he allowed just the two hits with three walks while striking out one and allowing the one unearned run, helping Marion to a 4-1-1 start on the year.

“Baseball is all about confidence anyway, going to the plate and having to face a marble being thrown at you like that,” Fagan said. “The more you win, the more confidence you get and the better we play.”

For the Norse, the failure to take advantage of opportunities has been a reoccurring trend in the young season, leading them to their current 0-3 record.

“We didn’t take advantage of opportunities we had early on,” Davis said. “I told the guys that if we have second and third with nobody out and only score one run...if we score a couple of runs there, that takes that two-run home run out of play. We need to start capitalizing on times when we have the opportunity to score. I think we’re still taking a lot of good pitches. Part of that is youth. We’re playing three or four kids where this is their first varsity experience ever. So, you can tell at the plate they’re unsure of themselves still.”

Still, despite the frustrating start to the season, a trio of games remain on the week for Northfield that could just as quickly turn the tide for the team after an early road bump.

“I told the guys, in the big scheme of things, as bad as we feel about this because we haven’t won in two or three weeks, it’s still only three games,” Davis said. “We have the opportunity ahead of us with three games this week to go 3-0 and be .500. What we’re doing right now is figuring out what we got...By the end of Saturday, I’m going to know what we got.”

Northfield will continue its busy week by hosting Eastbrook on Thursday before traveling to Taylor for a doubleheader on Saturday.