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Timely hits lead No. 2 Norwell over Heritage

Knights advance to Bellmont Sectional championship

Saturday, May 25, 2013 - 12:17 am

DECATUR – On a night when the big hits were scarcer than usual, a pair of Norwell High School seniors found out that singles work just fine.

Luke Hunter's two-out, full-count single in the bottom of the seventh drove in Jonah Patten and gave the Knights a 5-4 win over Heritage in the Class 3A Bellmont Sectional semifinal game on Friday.

Hunter's hit came an inning after senior Jake Meyer delivered a bases-loaded, two-out pinch-hit single to tie the game in an unusual Norwell rally that included three walks and two hit batters.

“In the tournament, what matters is finding a way to win,” Norwell coach Andy McClain said. “That's been the thing for us. We can win by swinging the bats. We can win by pitching. We can win by defense. Just winning is all that matters, especially at this stage of the season.”

Second-ranked Norwell (27-3) will play Eastbrook at 1 p.m. Monday for the sectional title. Heritage finished 19-6.

For much of the game Friday, Heritage freshman pitcher Andrew Saalfrank kept the strong-hitting Knights off balance. Heritage led 2-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth.

Norwell had two outs, but loaded the bases on three walks when Meyer came in to pinch hit.

Meyer, who spent the first half of the season as a starter, had seen his playing time diminish when three players returned from disciplinary suspension. But as McClain pointed out, Meyer didn't complain or sulk. He kept himself ready.

“I have all the confidence in the world in him,” McClain said. “I'm happy for the team and I'm happy for him. That was a great job. He hasn't been able to play a lot lately but he doesn't say one word. He comes through when it matters and that's character.”

Meyer said he felt a little nervous as he went in to pinch hit, with Norwell's season hanging in the balance. But it diminishes as he settled in the batter's box.

“I'm thinking if he throws it down the middle, I'm going to take a whack at it,” Meyer said.

His single between first and second drove in Tailur Szarenski and tied the game 2-2. Spencer Newell and Josh VanMeter were hit by pitches on consecutive at bats to push the lead to 4-2.

VanMeter, who struck out 11 in the complete-game win, looked to have the game in hand in the top of the seventh. With two down and no one on, he struck out pinch hitter Matthew Gibson for the apparent final out. The ball got away from catcher Cale Schumm and Gibson beat the throw to first.

A double by Cole Gerardot and a single by Kyle Macke tied the game again.

VanMeter ended the rally by forcing a ground ball out, setting up one final rally in the seventh.

Szarenski singled to open the inning but was thrown out at second on a fielder's choice. Jonah Patten reached second on a passed ball before Austin Dettmer hit a deep fly out, bringing Hunter to the plate.

Hunter hit a walk-off homer in the final regular-season home game for Norwell against Northrop, so he'd been in that spot before.

“The tournament's all about grinding it out,” VanMeter said. “Whether you win 15-0 or 3-2, a win is a win. Just survive and advance, that's what coach says, and we get to survive tonight.”