Prep Baseball: Missed chances doom NorthgateBy DOUG GORMAN
MARIETTA — Northgate’s hopes of advancing to the Elite 8 in this year’s Class AAAA baseball tournament Thursday afternoon were left stranded on the road at Pope.
A 3-game, second-round playoff series ended with the Greyhounds holding on for a deciding 4-1 victory thanks to some missed opportunities and far too many Viking baserunners unable to score.
Northgate’s comeback chances fell short in the final inning with the bases loaded and unable to score a run. Twice on Thursday, the Vikings left the bases full and it cost them in both innings.
Northgate opened the scoring in the second on a walk but couldn’t keep a rally going with three runners on. Pope answered in the bottom of the inning to take the lead for good. Against a state-ranked Pope lineup that improved to 24-7, missed chances haunted Northgate, which finished 17-14 after a string of clutch victories to keep a 13-year streak of state playoff appearance alive.
“You just can’t to that,” said Northgate coach Greg Hamilton.” We had plenty of opportunities, but we just couldn’t come up with the timely hits.”
Three weeks ago, the Vikings were fighting for the their playoff lives, but beat McIntosh to advance into the region playoffs. From there, they upset 10th-ranked Union Grove in a three-game series to secure their state playoff reservations.
After sweeping Lovejoy in last week’s first round, Northgate was coming off Wednesday’s doubleheader split against Pope losing Game One, 10-5, before scoring five unanswered runs in a 5-4 comeback victory in Game Two.
The series clincher on Thursday saw Pope pitcher Ben Levine going the distance for the Greyhounds in a nine-strikeout performance. He needed just six pitches in the first inning, retiring Northgate side in order, but the 6-foot right-handed senior ran into some trouble in the second inning, leading to the Vikings’ only run of the game.
Spencer Perry walked to leadoff the second inning and went to second on a base hit by starting pitcher Jake Hundley. Catcher Tyler Bowers reached on an error to load the bases. Robert Massenburg then walked with the bases loaded to bring home Perry for the 1-0 lead.
In his final varsity appearance, Hundley went 5 2/3 innings, with the senior giving up just eight hits and posting five strikeouts, including a pair of begin the game. Hundley ended his performance with two in the sixth before giving way to Jesse Copeland.
“I thought Jake did a really good job pitching tonight,” Hamilton said. “We just couldn’t help him out.”
The Greyhounds took the lead for good in the third inning thanks to back-to-back doubles by Greg Keel and Nathanel Lowe, the latter driving in two runs to give Pope the lead for good.
Bowers came inches away from tying the game on a solo homer in the fourth when he hit a ball toward the 360-foot fence in center and settling for a one-out double. Levine bounced back from giving up the extra base hit to strike out the next two batters to end the threat.
Pope added its third run in the fourth when Harrison Siegal squeezed home David Bohn.
The Greyhounds produced one last insurance run in the sixth. Hundley started the inning with two straight strikeouts, but after a Northgate error allowed Jake Henson to reach first, Pope kept the inning alive when Tripp Sullivan ripped an RBI double.
Northgate rallied in the seventh on base hits by leadoff hitter Cody Bevil and Massenburg. Clay Thomas also reached after getting hit by a pitch to load the bases, but the Vikings were unable to produce any sort of damage.
Bevil led the Vikings with a 2-for-4 performance among seven Northgate seniors.
“They have meant a lot to this program, and I wish them well in college and in life, I hope they do big things,” Hamilton said.