Shaken Raiders savor dazzling dives

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Southridge left fielder Luke Stetter, left, congratulated center fielder Dillion Ramsey after Ramsey laid out for a diving catch during Tuesday night’s game against Heritage Hills at League Stadium in Huntingburg. The Raiders won the matchup of Pocket Athletic Conference rivals 7-3. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Brett Nordhoff rested in a crouched position just outside the home plate circle with three Southridge coaches surrounding him. After what had just unfolded, Nordhoff had but one thought swirling in his recently shaken head.

“I got hit and I was like, ”˜That hurt,’” said Nordhoff, a black-and-blue golf-ball-size welt now swelling below his right eye. “That’s about it.”

Nordhoff

The Southridge catcher attempted a bunt with a runner on first base in the third inning only to have Heritage Hills pitcher Cory Ebelhar’s fastball skim off his bat and drill him in the face. Yet after the brief huddle with coaches, Nordhoff promptly hopped back to his feet and re-entered the batter’s box. Next pitch: another bunt attempt.

Shaken, not stirred.

As were the Raiders in many situations throughout the course of their Pocket Athletic Conference clash with the Patriots on Tuesday at League Stadium.

After jumping to an early lead, Southridge absorbed a few Patriot charges, but ultimately closed the door on further damage by way of timely defensive plays that prevented the Raiders’ 7-3 victory from being any closer.

After Nordhoff’s startling strike, Southridge coach Brad Wibbeler incessantly asked his catcher if he was OK. The coach urged Nordhoff to take a seat.

“For a minute, he was relaxed, and all of a sudden he’s like, ”˜All right, I’m ready,’” Wibbeler said. “Like he flipped a switch and he was ready to go.”

The gritty sophomore had only one question for his coach.

“I asked if I was bleeding, and he said, ”˜No,’” Nordhoff said about Wibbeler. “I was kind of disappointed.

“I get hit a lot. It’s not a big deal to me. I figure, you get hit, keep going.”

That, the Raiders (10-7, 4-2) did, particularly with some dazzling snags in the outfield.

Ahead 3-0 in the top half of the fourth, Southridge starter Chad O’Bryan (4-1) surrendered the Patriots’ first base hit of the game to leadoff man Nick Waninger (2-for-4, double). The Pats eventually packed runners on second and third, but the Raiders responded.

O’Bryan notched a three-pitch strikeout for out No. 1. He then induced Waninger into a pickle off third base on a soft comebacker to the mound. O’Byran threw to Nordhoff, who chased down the baserunner before he could retreat to the corner bag. Finally, Southridge outfielder Luke Stetter robbed Ebelhar with a diving catch on a sinking liner to shallow left, stranding two runners in scoring position.

Danger averted.

Similarly, Raider centerfielder Dillon Ramsey barred the Patriots from adding runs in the fifth inning, when he sacrificed his body to foil a gap shot to left-center field. The acrobatic nab kept Heritage Hills’ Dugan Kippenbrock from scampering home after his double. He didn’t advance any farther.

Ramsey called the Raiders’ defensive performance — their three errors aside — a “very intense and very crucial” part to their success, given the Patriots’ capacity at the plate. And of course, the diving grabs aren’t bad either.

“They’re fun out there,” Ramsey said of the sprawling catches. “I love making diving catches and just getting up and hearing the crowd cheer. I just like to make the out for the team and help my pitcher out.”

Defense, conversely, hurt the Patriots (11-12, 4-3) on a number of occasions. Though they didn’t commit an error, Heritage Hills coach Dave Sensenbrenner labeled his players’ defense “just terrible,” due mainly to giving Southridge extra at-bats because of a couple botched foul fly balls and unconcerned throws from the outfield.

Southridge’s Jacob Brewer, who drove in three runs, scored once and reached base three times, pulled a single to right field in the fourth inning with runners on second and third. The ball dropped under the diving right fielder’s glove, and as one run scored, a somewhat passive relay permitted Cody Moesner to trot home from second base.

Sensenbrenner bemoaned his squad’s slow start as well. While the Raiders tallied one run in the second inning, two in the third and three in the fourth, it took the Pats until the third inning to even register a baserunner. O’Bryan’s breaking pitches proved effective, as he struck out six batters in his five-plus innings. Through four innings, the stalky right-hander hurled a measly 44 pitches.

“We didn’t start out right,” Sensenbrenner said. “We just didn’t start in the flow. We were dead. It took us two or three innings before we started doing anything. We’ve just got to jump off the bus and do better.”

As for the Raiders, Nordhoff lauded the prized snares by “Dink” (Ramsey) and Stetter. In his mind, the fielding fortitude is undoubtedly correlated with the Raiders’ nine-hit outing at the plate, O’Bryan’s command on the mound and everything in between.

“It just gets the team going,” Nordhoff said of the catches. “It carries over to offense and pitching and everything. It just really brings us up and makes us want to play baseball and want to win a lot more.”

The game kick-started a five-day, five-game stretch for each team. While Wibbeler mentioned that little had been said regarding the dense schedule, starting the string off with a win could be instrumental from an energy standpoint.

“Sometimes you get into a stretch here about three-fourths of the way through the season, guys kind of get stagnant or start going through the motions, and we definitely needed a win like this,” said Wibbeler, whose team bested the Pats for the first time since 2009.

As for Sensenbrenner, the task remains trying to heighten his players’ alertness on a pitch-by-pitch basis, as if “every ball is being hit to you,” he said.

“Tomorrow’s another day, and you hope something clicks. Maybe the candle will be burning. Something. We’ve got to find something,” Sensenbrenner said. “So we’ll keep working at it, and hopefully we can get some things right in the next five or so games.”

As for Nordhoff, post-game concern focused on reducing the swollen cheek. The traditional remedy will suffice.

“Probably just ice,” he said.

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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