LOUISVILLE — No doubt, the future of Marlington baseball is bright.
But the present of Norton baseball is plenty bright already.
The Panthers used one key play to sink the Dukes 4-2 in a Division II district semifinal and advance to a district final against Tallmadge, a 2-0 winner over Louisville in Monday's late game, at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
With top-seeded Norton trailing fourth-seeded Marlington 2-1 with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, a passed ball allowed the Panthers' Par Rockhold to score the tying run. And when catcher Nick Mudrick’s rushed throw back to pitcher Andrew Carr covering home plate was wide and trickled back into the infield, John Cline came all the way around from second to score and give Norton the lead.
“It’s a humbling game, I’ll tell you that,” Dukes coach Mike Farrell said.
The Panthers (20-1) tacked on another run in the sixth and held on from there with senior Luke Bosley registering a complete-game win.
The Dukes (18-7) started two freshmen and only one senior Monday, which portends some good things down the line. But the Dukes committed five errors, including two each in the fifth and sixth innings, against the Panthers.
Those errors undermined the efforts of Carr (7-2), a junior right-hander who probably deserved a better fate after allowing four hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in six innings.
“The kid did a great job of elevating his fastball and hitting a great spot,” said Norton’s Rod Swartz, in his 25th year as Panthers coach, of Carr. “Our kids struggled with that a little bit. And he did a great job of keeping us off-stride with his off-speed. But we kept adjusting.
“That’s one thing with our group — we’ve got experience and a lot of seniors. I don’t ever count them out. They honestly believe they can win in any situation.”
Bosley needed 51 pitches to get through the first two innings, but he came away unscathed after loading the bases with one out in the first. An RBI single by Andrew Pucci and an error by Bosley allowed the Dukes to take a 2-1 lead in the second.
After that, the senior right-hander with a funky three-quarters delivery settled in. After the second inning, Marlington produced only one hit — a two-out Anthony Sabatino single in the seventh.
“He mixed it up with his fastball and off-speed stuff, his breaking stuff,” Farrell said of Bosley, who improved to 7-0 this season and 13-0 over the last two seasons. “He just competed. I don’t know how many balls we rolled over on to third base.”
The best may be yet to come for Marlington, but on Monday the Dukes got a lesson in winning tournament games from a veteran Norton team.
“It’s the little things we preach and practice,” Farrell said. “They win ballgames. They win championship games. We didn’t make enough of those today.”