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The North Hardin Trojans have waited six years to get back to the 5th Region Baseball Tournament, so a 35-minute lightning delay Tuesday night was merely a speed bump for them.
With North Hardin leading 5-0 in the bottom of the sixth, the teams were pulled off the field.
The break didn’t bother sophomore Javier Echevarria as he returned to the mound and shut the door on any comeback hopes Elizabethtown might have had, knocking the Panthers out of the 17th District Baseball Tournament with a 5-1 win at Central Park.
“This means so much,” North Hardin senior Jamaal Wilson said. “I’ve waited for this for five years now. It’s good to get an opportunity to play for a district championship and it means even more to play in a region tournament on our field.”
With the win, the Trojans (18-15) locked up a spot in the region tournament. It’s their first trip since winning it in 2006. They play Central Hardin at 6 p.m. today in the championship.
Echevarria limited the Panthers to five walks and five hits. He didn’t allow a hit until junior Connor Kauffeld’s bunt single in the fifth. He struck out six.
“I just kept my calm and coolness,” Echevarria said through a translator.
It was a Herculean effort by Echevarria. He threw 133 pitches, including his 100th pitch right before the teams were told to leave the field.
“I’m really proud of Javy,” North Hardin coach Ace Adcock said. “He kept his arm loose during the delay and he didn’t tighten up. He came back and pounded the zone.”
North Hardin was aggressive from the start. Adcock felt after a loss earlier to Elizabethtown that he didn’t take advantage of scoring opportunities. That wasn’t the case this time.
“Definitely in a big game like this it’s important to get a lead early,” junior Graham Mathews said. “That sets the tone.”
The Trojans did exactly that, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. With one out, senior Jordan Sanchez walked and Echevarria singled to center out of the reach of a diving Cody Bridges.
Adcock called a hit-and-run and Mathews delivered an RBI single to left-center and Echevarria advanced to third, which proved big when freshman A.J. Morales followed with a sacrifice fly to plate Echevarria.
“I was just trying to put it in play,” Mathews said. “I was able to get it where I wanted to score a run.”
In the fourth, Wilson delivered a huge blow. Blake Yates reached on an infield single and moved to second on Sy Ogden’s sacrifice bunt. Freshman Gardy Sanchez singled to right and stole second before Wilson bombed a two-run triple to the right-center gap to make it 4-0. Echevarria smacked a ground-rule RBI double to center to give the Trojans a 5-0 lead.
“I went up there, and at first, I was going to bunt,” Wilson said. “I heard my Dad say, ‘Do it for your Grandma.’ She passed in August. I just saw a fastball and hit it as hard as I could.”
Elizabethtown threatened with two outs in the fifth when junior Preston Patterson walked and Kauffeld reached on a bunt single. But Echevarria induced a soft fly to Yates at second base to get out of the jam.
The Panthers again put two runners on with two outs. Senior Cannon Pender was hit by a pitch and freshman Hunter Sullivan singled to center. But Echevarria recorded a strikeout on a 3-2 pitch to end the threat.
“This is postseason baseball and you’re going to face a good pitcher,” Elizabethtown coach Don Pitts said. “He did a whale of a job. It’s tough to play from behind against a pitcher like him.”
With two outs in the seventh, freshman Jack Wilson, Bridges and senior Garrett Morgan hit consecutive singles to load the bases. Sophomore Zeke Pinkham walked to force in a run. But Echevarria induced a pop fly to first to end the game and the team’s region drought.
“This basically means a lot to me because we’re closer to a championship,” Echevarria said.
The Panthers finished the season 23-11, but it was a disappointing end, especially for Pender, Morgan and senior Will Jenkins.
“A lot of good teams around the state go home and it’s usually due to a good pitcher,” Pitts said. “Getting a lead early in the postseason is big, but I thought Cannon handled it well. We just didn’t get him any runs. The longer it went the more I think we started to press a little. It’s tough.”
NORTH HARDIN 5, ELIZABETHTOWN 1
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North Hardin 200 030 0 5 6 0
Elizabethtown 000 000 1 1 5 0
Javier Echevarria and Graham Mathews. Cannon Pender, Austin Freyberger (5), Cody Bridges (6) and Zeke Pinkham. WP: Echevarria (4-3). LP: Pender (7-4). 2B: Echevarria (NH). 3B: Jamaal Wilson (NH). SB: Gardy Sanchez (NH).
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.