In single-elimination tournament play, the goal is always survival; teams simply need to win the game in front of them, by any means necessary, even if that means scoring a go-ahead run on a strikeout.
That's what the Northrop baseball team did Wednesday, taking an early lead and holding on late behind a dominant pitching performance from Marcus Bell to escape with a 2-0 win over East Noble in the sectional quarterfinals at Carroll.
"That's the theme of the day is 'survived'," Northrop coach Matt Brumbaugh said. "Hopefully we got the nervousness out. We got a lot of new guys that haven't been in a tournament situation, so you get that first one under your belt and you feel pretty good about yourself."
The Bruins (19-8) got off to a good start offensively, with two singles in the first three batters. Later in the first inning, they got a break. With a runner on third, East Noble pitcher Joe Kovets struck out Gavin Schoenle, but the ball bounced away from the catcher and Schoenle reached, while Jack Hayden raced home with the game's first run.
That was all Bell needed. The right-handed senior tossed a complete game shutout, striking out 10 and never letting a runner get past second base. He threw 107 pitches, but did not seem tired at the end of the game as he retired the final five hitters in a row without any hard contact.
"When we swung at the curveball, we missed it," East Noble coach Aaron Desmonds said. "We tried to preach, 'Hit the fastball' because his fastball wasn't overpowering us, but unfortunately we got behind in some counts and that allowed him to throw that curveball for a strike. He did a nice job. He pitched a heck of a game."
The best chance for the Knights (10-16) to score came in the sixth, when Nick McCoy and Rhett Norris each singled with one out. Bell's pitch count was already in the 80s at that point and he admitted to being a little tired, but Brumbaugh said he didn't consider changing pitchers.
"(Bell) has been our guy all year," the coach said. "We got (Gaven Schreiber) up to get warmed up for the seventh, but we felt pretty good about where (Bell) was at. ... He was pounding the zone and letting our defense work for him."
Bell rewarded his coach's faith in him by striking out two straight hitters to escape the jam.
After giving up the first-inning run and another in the third when Schoenle singled to left, Kovets settled in and matched Bell with zeroes of his own. The East Noble senior also pitched a complete game, giving up only one earned run and striking out five.
"These last three or four games Joe's pitched, he's really thrown well for us," Desmonds said of Kovets, who will play at Ivy Tech next year. "He's one that we knew we could count on and get some ground balls. They didn't really hit him hard."
The Bruins advance to the sectional semifinals against DeKalb (14-9) on Friday.