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Key stretch eliminates Bulldogs
For one diving catch, one run and one inning it appeared Notre Dame was in the mode for a second major upset in Class 3 baseball.
But two proved to be the number that ultimately unwound the Bulldogs in their sectional showdown with North County at Notre Dame Regional High School.
North County, ranked third in the state, scored eight of its runs with two outs on its way to a 9-4 victory and advanced to Saturday's quarterfinals.
The Raiders scored all their runs in two innings and took control of the game in a four-run second inning. They ran it to nine unanswered runs in a five-run fourth, all scoring with two outs.
Notre Dame matched North County's nine hits, but three Bulldog pitchers combined for six walks and two hit batters. Three of the walks were full-count, two-out bases-loaded passes that forced in runs.
"I thought it was our day, but we always have one bad inning," Notre Dame center fielder Dustin Tatum said. "We had two bad innings this time. Every loss we've ever had, it's usually because of one bad inning."
Tatum finished with three RBIs and turned in the defensive play of the day with a diving, back-to-the infield catch on a Adam Howard drive in deep center field to end a 1-2-3 first inning.
The Bulldogs (19-7) promptly rapped out two hits in the bottom of the inning off Raider ace Mike Cole (10-0) and took a 1-0 lead on a Tatum sacrifice fly.
It was the perfect start after an upset victory over Sikeston, the top-ranked team in the state, in Friday's district championship game.
"The first inning couldn't have went any better," Notre Dame coach Jeff Graviett said. "We had momentum."
But North County (25-3) sent nine batters to the plate in the second inning, chasing Bulldog starter Jared Jinkerson in the process. After Jinkerson retired the leadoff man, he walked Preston Gross on a full-count pitch. Brandon Robinson followed with the Raiders' first hit, a double to right-center, with Gross stopping at third.
North County attempted two suicide squeeze bunts against Notre Dame two weeks earlier in a 5-3 victory. Aware of the Raiders' small-ball tendencies, the Bulldogs attempted to pitch out on a 1-1 pitch to Pete Pasternak, but he reached out and got the bunt down to score Gross. Pasternak ended up with a single after the Bulldogs neglected to cover first base on the play.
The play proved pivotal when Jinkerson struck out Danny Braning for what would have been the third out. Jinkerson then hit Cole to load the bases and forced in the go-ahead run with a walk to Alex Winters. Scott Hubbard chased Jinkerson with a two-run bloop single to left field for a 4-1 lead. The single brought on Blake Urhahn, who retired the next batter.
In the bottom of the inning, Notre Dame failed to capitalize on uncharacteristic wildness by Cole, 27-1 over three seasons. Cole walked two batters and had a 3-1 count on Urhahn, the Bulldog leadoff batter, but Matt Smith was caught off second on a pickoff throw by catcher Lucas Hulsey.
The hole got deeper in the fourth inning. Winters tripled with two outs to extend the lead to 5-1. The next six batters all reached base with the ball leaving the infield just once.
It left Notre Dame looking at a 9-1 deficit and having the unenviable task of scoring at least 10 runs to win. The Raiders had not given up more than six runs in a game this season.
The Bulldogs used a two-out, two run single by Tatum in the fifth inning to close to 9-3 and added a RBI single by Urhahn in the sixth, but Notre Dame stranded two runners in each inning.
Matt Wulfers went 3-for-3 and Urhahn and Lee Essner each finished with two hits for Notre Dame, which got eight hits from the top four batters in the order.
"To move up in class and be here, that was something," Wulfers said. "We beat Sikeston and that's a great team. I'm very impressed. It would have taken a great game to beat them."
Hulsey, Robinson and Pasternak each had two for North County, which lost to Sikeston in 12 innings in last years sectional.
"I think we'll go all the way," Howard said. "I really do. We have a lot of seniors and good leadership. We've got a good chance."
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