By CAREY FOX
Times Sports Editor
JASONVILLE -- Pitching depth in the postseason is never more relevant than in a sectional where you play three games in three days, including two contests over the course of one seven-hour stretch.
On Monday evening, the well ran dry for Clay City's baseball team against Class A second-ranked North Central (Farmersburg). The Eels barely had time to celebrate an upset win over the Shakamak Lakers, a squad that had an eight-year sectional title run halted by the very same Thunderbirds team last season. North Central returned, nearly intact, a team that reached the Final Four in Class A last season and brought a 21-5 mark into the title game.
North Central broke out the heavy lumber in the game, smacking four home runs on the way to a 15-7 victory that propels the T-Birds into the weekend's regional.
Following an 11-0 shutout over Union in the day's opening contest, North Central sent ERA leader Connor Strain to the mound to face the Eels. Strain had posted a 1.60 ERA with a 6-2 mark this year.
The real story in this game quickly became the offense for North Central, which picked up right where it left off against the Bulldogs earlier in the day.
Former Northview Knight, Craig Bell, a T-Bird senior, hammered a pair of homeruns in the title game and had three for the day. Cole Johnson and Bell went back-to-back with solo home runs in the third inning to drive Eels' starter Ben Denker from the game. The shots gave North Central the first two of a five-run inning that opened up a 7-0 gap for North Central.
"There's no easy outs in that lineup," Clay City coach Vance Edmondson said of North Central. "We came in knowing we'd have to make some plays in the field and try to hit with them. It just didn't work out for us tonight."
After Brylan Jones went all seven innings in the win over Shakamak to exhaust his maximum 10-innings pitched limit. The Eels would send three pitchers to the mound against North Central, but the hits kept coming.
In the fourth inning, Kole Smith walked both Johnson and Bell before an infield single by Collin Harding set the plate. A wild pitch brought one run home and a sacrifice fly pushed the lead to 9-4.
Smith returned to the mound in the fifth inning, but didn't get much help from his defense, which committed three errors along with an RBI double by Johnson that enabled North Central to add two more runs to its lead.
The Thunderbirds put the finishing touches on the win in the seventh inning as Bell drilled his 10th home run of the game, a three-run shot that extended the lead to 15-4.
Clay City wouldn't go away quietly as the Eels scored three times on a two-run double by Bridgewater that scored Harbour and Denker. A wildpitch brought home Bridgewater, but Strain struckout Jones to end the contest.
"I'm very proud of the guys. Hopefully this will be something we can build upon," Edmondson said following the championship loss. "I'm happy, we just kind of run out of gas there tonight, but we battled and never gave up. So I'm proud of them.
He was especially proud of his team's grit in continuing to fight to the final out.
"They didn't give up," Edmondson said of the Eels' seventh inning rally. "That's what I told them all year long, just keep battling and keep fighting. Baseball is a funny game, you never know what's going to happen.
"We're going to miss those guys," Edmonson said regarding his three seniors that include Bridgewater, Fuller and Tanner Persinger. "You can't replace those three. They each do something special and it's going to be tough to lose them. Some guys are going to have to work hard to fill their shoes."
Class A Shakamak Sectional
2B -- CC (Bridgewater 2), NC (Johnson 2, Loveall). HR -- NC (Bell 2, Johnson, Z. Lyday).