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Written By StaceyPageOnline / Sports on Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Warsaw’s Michael Nunez dives safely back into first base on a pickoff play. The Tigers lost 6-0 to No. 8 ranked NorthWood in NLC action in Nappanee Wednesday night.

NAPPANEE – There is plenty of big time power up and down the loaded lineup for the NorthWood baseball team.

The Panthers, though, also possess the ability to put the pressure on opponents with plenty of execution of the little things on offense as well.

NorthWood showcased its “small” ball arsenal to perfection in blanking Warsaw 6-0 in Northern Lakes Conference play Wednesday night.

The hosts Panthers, who check in at No. 8 in the latest Class 3-A poll, improve to 16-3 overall and move to 9-2 in league action. Warsaw, which managed just four hits, falls to 4-12 overall and sits at 2-9 in NLC play.

Matt Dutkowski fires a pitch for the Panthers.

NorthWood, which entered play Wednesday night batting .363 as a team and averaging a gaudy nine plus runs per contest, took control from the start. The hosts scored the first of three tallies in the home half of the first inning without hitting a ball out of the infield. Leadoff batter Sawyer Warren reached on an infield single before Brant Mast put down a perfect push bunt to the right side for a hit. Matt Dutkowski followed with a popped up bunt which fell in to load the bases.

The biggest play of the night then occurred on what seemed like a routine play. NorthWood cleanup hitter Payton Bear hit a ball to Warsaw third baseman Noah Burgh. Burgh smartly stepped on third for a foreceout and then fired home for a potential double play, but Warren was not tagged at the plate. The Panthers then got an RBI single by Hunter Warren to make it 2-0 and a sacrifice fly by Kyler Hauptli to extend the early lead to 3-0.

“In conference play, we want to put the pressure on our opponents early,” said first-year NorthWood coach AJ Risedorph. “Our guys have great baseball IQ’s and by moving runners like we did tonight it does put the pressure on the other team’s defense to make plays. Brant had a great bunt there in the first for us.”

Warsaw coach Mike Hepler could only shake his head when asked about the strange first frame.

Liam Patton had a hit for the Tigers.

“It was just one of those things in that first inning,” Hepler remarked. “Credit them because they executed some nice bunts. On the play where the first run scored our catcher could not see that we forced the guy out at third so he did not know that he had to tag the guy. It was just a weird play and a tough way to start the game.”

The Tigers simply could not do much with Matt Dutkowski. The Panther junior right-hander was in control throughout as he went the first six innings. He allowed just four hits, including an infield one and a blooper, to raise his record to 4-0. Dutkowski, who entered the game with a 0.88 ERA,  fanned three and walked none.

Preston King retired Warsaw 1-2-3 in the final frame for the Panthers.

“We battled tonight, but just could not get the hits,” said Hepler. “We just did not hit tonight and I do not know why. I thought that we would. NorthWood has good players and credit them.”

The Panthers, who went 26-2 overall and 14-0 in the NLC a year ago, scored a run in the fourth on an RBI double by Bear. The hosts made it 6-0 in the sixth on a two-run single by Mast.

Risedorph, who was a varsity assistant coach for the Panthers in 2015-16 and worked with the JV team in 2013-14, has seen his team win four in a row since back-to-back NLC losses to Goshen (12-5) and Concord (11-8).

“I was even pleased after our loss to Concord,” said Risedorph, whose team won 8-3 at Warsaw on April 23. “The guys regrouped and lost as a team that night.

Brant Mast led NorthWood with two hits.

“We have some great team guys in our dugout who have bought into their roles for us this year.They don’t look ahead. We take it pitch by pitch and game by game. We’re still trying to win an NLC championship and we know that we need to bring our A game every night in conference play.”

NorthWood, which went to the semistate for the first time since 1983 a year ago, had won 20 in a row in the NLC before the loss to Goshen.

Warsaw starter Caden Bowers deserved a better fate. The junior southpaw went four and two-thirds strong innings against a potent Panther offense. Bowers fanned two and walked one.

“I was pleased with Caden,” noted Hepler. “He gave us a good start tonight. He did a nice job mixing his pitches. We just need to do our part and be better offensively.”

Mast paced the Panthers, who had six hits, with a pair of singles.

Leadoff hitter Jared Hawley, one of six seniors, had two hits for the Tigers.

NorthWood honored seniors Cam Hershberger, Preston King, Landen Gessinger, Sawyer Warren, Hunter Warren, Brock Miller, Brant Mast and Payton Bear prior to the game Wednesday night.

NorthWood will host Elkhart Memorial Friday night in another NLC game. The contest will be a very important one to the entire NorthWood program as it will be the Panthers K-Day to raise money for the Jason Motte Foundation to help strike out cancer. NorthWood senior twins Sawyer and Hunter Warren lost their sister-in-law Lauren Warren at the age of 26 to Mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, in February.

The Panthers will then host NLC foe Plymouth Monday night.

Warsaw plays at NLC foe Northridge Friday night. The Tigers then host Carroll for a doubleheader Saturday and host Concord in a league game Monday evening.

Caden Bowers turned in a strong pitching effort for Warsaw.

Brendan Perry of the Tigers.

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