By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
PLEASANT HILL — If Newton baseball coach Jordan Kopp wanted to see how his team handled adversity in a relatively safe environment, he got his chance Wednesday.
The second-seeded Indians jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back in the second round of the Division IV sectional tournament against No. 9 Catholic Central, missing chances to end the game in a run-rule but still putting away the Fighting Irish convincingly, 9-0 Wednesday at home.
“I’m proud of the guys. Things didn’t go our way in a lot of different situations,” Kopp said. “But they battled and kept to the process. It’s a long baseball game. At times if things don’t go your way in the first or second inning, you can mail it in sometimes, and I was proud of the guys. They turned the page and controlled the controllables. If you control the things you can control, you’ll be in good shape, and don’t worry about the things that are out of your control.”
And the Indians are used to being in control this season.
Newton — which improved to 20-4 with the win — advances to Monday’s sectional final at Duke Park to face Franklin Monroe, a 10-1 winner over Tri-Village in another second-round matchup on Wednesday.
“This is win No. 20, and this is the second time in three years now,” Kopp said. “I’m proud of how all the guys have played. We lost a lot of pitching last year, and the guys stuck to the process, and we’ve competed in a lot of games. For us to get win No. 20 in the seniors’ (Ryan Mollette, Nate Zielinski and Charlie Walker) last game here at this ballpark, I’m just really happy for those guys.”
The Indians, though, got off to a shaky start against Catholic Central — which defeated No. 12 Legacy Christian 17-14 on Tuesday to reach the second round. On the first play of the game, Luke Spracklen reached and went to second base on a throwing error on a routine ground ball, then he took third on a wild pitch, still with no outs. But Newton starter Mollette bounced back and struck out the side in the inning, leaving the runner stranded 90 feet away.
“We’re talking about controlling the things that are controllable, and as a pitcher, you can focus on putting the ball in the zone and making them put the ball in play, and he did that,” Kopp said. “We made an error, and he came right back at it and struck the side out in that first.”
And Newton’s offense struck in the bottom of the inning. Mollette beat out a bunt single to lead off, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on an RBI sac fly by Zielinski to make it 1-0. After a bloop single by Charlie Walker and a walk to Cameron Caldwell, a wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position for Ross Ferrell, who pulled a two-run single into right field to get the Indians off to a 3-0 start.
That would prove to be enough for Mollette, though he worked out of trouble in practically every inning. In the second, he got a strikeout to leave runners stranded on second and third, and then in the fourth he turned a one-six-three double play to end the inning after giving up his first hit of the game.
But after Newton added another run in the fourth after Caden Sweitzer led off with a triple and scored on an error off the bat of Caleb Garber, Mollette was called out on a close play at first base to end the inning — and he took his frustrations out on the unsuspecting Irish batters the next inning. Working lightning quick, he struck out a pair of batters, including one to end the inning with a runner on second base, and then he got another inning-ending strikeout to end the sixth with a runner on third and finish off six scoreless innings of work. Mollette left the game after six, allowing no runs, only one hit and five walks with eight strikeouts.
“Ryan didn’t have his best stuff,” Kopp said. “He usually has really good command of three pitches, and he used his curveball to get ahead today. But once that lit the fire, he came out and was challenging them with the fastball and got ahead late in the game with that. He’s got really good stuff, and he’s got a fastball he can blow by people. When he’s in the zone, he’s tough to hit.”
And in the bottom of the fifth, Newton put the game away for good.
Zielinski doubled to lead off, Walker drew a walk and a double-steal put two runners in scoring position for Ferrell again, who this time dropped down an RBI bunt single that scored both runners. Ferrell originally was called out on the play despite the fact that the first baseman never touched the base, having stepped off after seeing the second runner trying to score, but after a brief discussion he was awarded first base in addition to the two RBIs.
“That’s something we work on all the time,” Kopp said. “We really put a focus on doing the small things. It was a 4-0 ballgame at the time, so it’s still a ballgame at that point and those two runs are very important. And we’ll do that with anybody, one through nine, and I think Ross in the five-hole had a couple really good at-bats then comes up, puts a bunt down and gives us an opportunity to go up by six in the fifth.”
Newton kept the heat on after that, too, with Garber and Mitchell Montgomery beating out back-to-back infield RBI singles to make it an 8-0 game after five. And after Caldwell added an RBI single in the sixth to make it 9-0, Colin Tackett came in to work the seventh inning, allowing one hit and striking out one to close things out.
All told, Newton outhit Catholic Central 9-2 in the game. Ferrell led the way, going 2 for 3 with four RBIs — the only player on either team with multiple hits.
Monday’s game will mark a return to Duke Park and the sectional final for the Indians, who were upset in the second round last season but had won three straight sectional finals before that, the last two of those played at Duke Park. The Indians beat Franklin Monroe 13-4 in a regular-season game back on April 23.
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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