Northwestern coach Mitch Walters said last week that winning the region was more important than winning the Wheels Invitational.
After the Trojans fell to Fort Mill in the championship of that tournament Saturday, they were presented with their first chance this season to show how they can come back from a loss.
The answer was a thorough 9-2 victory over the Nation Ford Falcons on Tuesday night at Nation Ford, and with it they accomplished their goal of winning the Region 3-AAAA title and keeping their perfect region mark intact.
“We’re happy for the boys that they won it, but more than anything we wrapped up the No. 1 seed at home when the district playoffs start,” Walters said.
During the Wheels, Walters wanted to hold his top two pitchers so he would have them available for Tuesday night, and the strategy worked just how he hoped.
Cam Norwood started and almost went the distance against the Falcons, finally being pulled with two outs in the seventh and runners on first and second.
Jake Rentz came on and got the first batter he faced to pop weakly to second base for the championship-clinching out. Norwood only allowed two first-inning runs on five hits while striking out seven to get the win.
“We said we would have our arms ready for tonight,” Walters said. “Cameron threw a whale of a game. He wanted to finish it.”
The Trojans took advantage of some help from Nation Ford to jump ahead in the first inning. Leadoff hitter Dupree Hart hit a fly ball down the left-field line that was dropped by the left-fielder right at the line. There was some confusion as to whether the ball was fair or foul but it was ruled fair as Hart raced to second.
Heath Sumwalt followed with a walk, one of his three on the night, and two outs later Norwood drove home Hart with a base hit.
Sumwalt took third on the throw home and then scored as the catcher tried to get Norwood going to second. Seven of the Trojans’ runs were scored with two outs.
Nation Ford answered right back in the home half of the first with two runs of their own.
Brandon Fite led off the inning with a soft hit over shortstop. Spencer Pecarro lined out to short but Hart’s throw to double the runner at first was high, and Fite moved to second.
He advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a two-out blooper over short by Tyler Borland. Borland stole second and scored to tie the game at two on yet another base hit just out of Hart’s reach by Justin Johnson.
That would be all the Falcons would get as they did not have another baserunner or hit until the fourth when Borland walked and Johnson singled to right.
But Norwood got out of the first and third situation with a strikeout and fly ball to center. Their only other baserunners were Will Visbeck and Fite on a double and walk with two outs in the seventh off Norwood.
The defense helped Norwood as Hart, in the third inning on back-to-back plays, made a leaping catch of a Fite looping liner and fielded a grounder behind second, spun and fired to first for the second out. Josh Crump also had a diving catch in center in the second inning.
“Any sport Dupree plays he would be good at it,” Walters said. “He’s very good in football, he’d be great in basketball, he’d be great in soccer...he’s just a very special young man. But he’s a better person than a ballplayer. He comes to work every day, it’s ‘yes, sir, no, sir.’ You don’t hear any complaining.”
The Trojans scored two in the fourth when Garrett Rast scored on a wild pitch and, while the catcher went to the mound, Colton Pagoota snuck and stole home. The umpire said time was never called. Northwestern tacked on two more in the fifth on three straight two-out hits by J.T. Marion, Drew Patrick, and Hart.
Northwestern 9, Nation Ford 2
Cam Norwood and Jake Rentz; Tyler Borland, Chris Cash, and Mike Regan.
WP - Norwood. LP - Borland. 2B - Colton Pagoota (NW) Will Visbeck (NF). 3B - Heath Sumwalt (NW). Leading hitters - NW: Hart 2-4, RBI, R, Colton Pagoota 2-3, 2B; NF: Borland 1-2, RBI, BB, R, Justin Johnson 2-2, RBI, BB. Records - Northwestern: 19-1, 11-0 Region 3-AAAA; Nation Ford: 15-4, 7-3.