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Panthers cruise to sectional title

BENTON — Ryder Ransberger actually took more of a beating at the plate than behind it, but the NorthWood sophomore wasn’t complaining when it was over.

Besides catching junior lefty Connor Reed’s one-hitter, Ransberger was drilled by West Noble pitches all three times he batted — once in the helmet, once in the back and once in the shoulder blade — as the Panthers whipped the wild-throwing Chargers 13-0 in Monday evening’s Class 3A Fairfield Sectional baseball title game shortened to five innings by the 10-run rule.

“Just a good overall team win,” Ransberger said, shrugging off three more HBPs to push his decidedly club-leading total to 14 for the season.

“Getting hit by pitches doesn’t really affect me,” Ransberger said. “If I can get on base any way possible, that’s fine. It led to runs, so that’s what I was happy about.”

NorthWood (17-14) captured its first sectional title since 2018, that one coming during head coach AJ Risedorph’s rookie season, this one coming with a bevy of taxing times that belied Monday’s lopsided outcome.

“Three years of blood, sweat and tears,” Risedorph said of what it took to hoist the trophy. “When you look at our two seniors who have played (regularly) since their sophomore year (Carson Mashack and Beau Patterson), all our juniors that have played since their freshman year, our two sophomores that have played since their freshman year (Ransberger and Nathan Shrock), it’s been three years of grinding it out and taking our lumps.”

The Panthers, who went 17-37 over the two seasons preceding this one, advanced to a regional championship Saturday against Fort Wayne Dwenger (23-8). The game will be played at Clay High School, with the first pitch scheduled for 3 p.m.

“You just gotta love the energy that we have out here,” Reed said, making an unsolicited point of saluting NorthWood’s fired-up fans.

Reed tossed no-hit ball until Trevor Steele’s one-out infield single deep into the hole between shortstop and third base with one out in the fifth inning.

“It definitely got to me,” Reed said, admitting that he was aware it was West Noble’s first hit, “but you just gotta keep your head up through those moments and keep battling.”

He didn’t have to battle much longer. The next batter grounded into a 5-4-3 double play that Ty Stankovich started to end the game.

“Stellar defense,” Reed said. “Ty, huge performance out of him (including a spiffy short-hop snag in the fourth inning). Love the plays he made, along with the rest of the guys. I love the group of guys we have.”

Reed struck out four and walked one, facing just one hitter over the minimum.

Offensively, the Panthers’ ongoing damage was highlighted by Shrock’s three-run double into the right-center field gap during an eight-run second inning.

Junior Nate Dutkowski doubled in NorthWood’s first run during the opening inning on his way to two hits for the game, while Mashack smacked a run-scoring double in the fourth. He also made a diving catch of a liner to right field in the second.

West Noble (5-18-1), coming off a 6-4 upset over Wawasee in Saturday’s semifinals, gave the Panthers plenty of assistance by way of four pitchers combining to issue nine walks, six hit batsmen and five wild pitches.

NorthWood also ran virtually at will, piling up 13 stolen bases in 14 tries, including three steals each by Dutkowski and Reed.

“That’s something we’ve been able to do a lot this year, be aggressive on the basepaths,” Risedorph said. “That’s one of our ways to be able to put pressure on teams. Small ball and run it.”

The Panthers’ dismissal of the Chargers followed an opening-round 12-7 win Wednesday over an East Noble club that entered at 12-11 and a 2-1 edging Saturday of the host Falcons, who entered at 20-8.

“You gotta go out there and compete your hardest,” Reed said of NorthWood not overlooking a West Noble squad it had already beaten 19-7 during the regular season. “We had a good week of practice leading up (to the sectional) and all the guys, we all had the same mentality, same attitude going into it. Just give it your all.”

“We knew we didn’t want to end our season early,” Ransberger said, “so we just had a lot of fire coming into this game.”

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3A FAIRFIELD SECTIONAL

NORTHWOOD 13, WEST NOBLE 0

(5 innings)

W. Noble;000;00;—;0;1;1

NorthWood;262;3x;—;13;6;0

Brooks Ruisard (L, 2-6), Tristen Newcomer (2), Brady Shields (3), Mason Taylor (4); Connor Reed (W, 5-3).

NorthWood: Hits — Nate Dutkowski 2. 2B — Dutkowski, Carson Mashack, Nathan Shrock. RBI — Shrock 3, Landon Perry 2. Runs — Mason Bogan 3, Mashack 2, Dutkowski 2, Reed 2. SB — Dutkowski 3, Reed 3, Bogan 2, Mason Warren 2.

Records: NorthWood 17-14, West Noble 5-18-1.