Franklin Central Wins Marion County Title; Snaps North Central's Win Streak



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By Pete Cava
PBR Indiana Correspondent  

INDIANAPOLIS – Franklin Central edged visiting North Central 3-2 Monday night to win the Marion County Tournament and halt the Panthers’ 12-game winning streak. 

Kevin Hammond’s stalwart pitching, a solid relief effort by Jake Sprinkle, Jimmy Yates’ clutch hitting, and shortstop AJ Taylor’s throwing arm sparked the Flashes (15-6).     

North Central’s skein coming into the contest included three wins this weekend at the Hall of Fame Classic in Jasper.  

Monday’s game included a bizarre inning in which the first four North Central batters hit safely, but the Panthers (16-6) failed to score.  

Franklin Central coach John Rockey started Hammond, a junior right-hander, while North Central's Phil McIntyre countered with Justin Kirch, who'll enter Wabash College this fall. Kirch, a righty, had pitched superbly for North Central while Panthers ace Mac Lozer was dogged by tendinitis earlier this season.   

Through the first three frames, Hammond and Kirch traded blanks.  Franklin Central’s fielding lapses in the fourth gave North Central a 1-0 advantage. Justin Short led off with a shot through the legs of first baseman Michael Owens for an error. Anthony Williams ran for Short and went to second on Kirch's sacrifice bunt. 

When third baseman Jimmy Yates bobbled Demetrius Webb's grounder, North Central had runners at the corners.  Keaton Conner followed with a suicide squeeze that plated the speedy Williams. 

Franklin Central grabbed the lead in the bottom of the fourth.  Chris Knox started the rally with a one-out double.  Yates followed with a two-base hit to center that tied the score.   When Justin Jones lined a base hit to center, the Flashes went up 2-1. 

Base-running blunders in the top of the fifth doomed North Central.  Roman Baisa opened the frame with a double.  He raced to third on Andrew Riley’s single past Yates at third and McIntyre waved Baisa home.  A perfect throw from shortstop AJ Taylor cut down Baisa at the plate. 

Lozer, North Central's designated hitter, dumped a single to right that put runners at first and third.  On a double steal attempt, Taylor cut off the throw from catcher Jason Ruble and fired the ball back to the plate to nail the sliding Riley. 

Lozer went to second on the play and took third on Gui Earlywine's opposite-field hit, but Hammond got Short on a fly ball to end the inning. 

Franklin Central added a run in the sixth when Yates drilled a 1-1 fastball over the center field fence.  “Fastball, up and high,” the ebullient junior third baseman said afterwards.  

After Baisa opened the seventh for North Central with a single, John Rockey replaced Hammond with junior righty Jake Sprinkle, who had blanked Southport with a one-hitter last Friday.  

Baisa went all the way to third on a wild pickoff attempt, and rode home moments later on Riley’s grounder to first.  With the Franklin Central lead down to the bare minimum, Sprinkle retired Lozer on a close play at first base.  He then slipped a third strike past Earlywine to cap off the one-hour, 38-minute contest. 

“It was real close, all seven innings,” said Hammond.  “It goes down as my biggest game.  I never pitched in a game this big before.  I had to perform, and that’s what happened. ”          

Hammond gave up eight hits and a pair of walks while striking out four.  Both North Central runs were unearned.        

Yates was 2-for-3 with a double, homer and two runs batted in.  Austin Kiel went 2-for-2 for the Flashes and stole a base.  Baisa and Riley had two hits apiece for North Central. 

Asked if his teams had ever before had consecutive straight hits and failed to score, Phil McIntyre shook his head and chuckled mirthlessly.  “Probably not,” he answered.  “We’ve always been aggressive like that.  It just didn’t work out this game.  

“We always try to take advantage of what we have.  You never want to make the first out at home plate or third base, and unfortunately we did.  They made a heck of a play on the cutoff to go back home.  So it is what it is.  That’s baseball.”  

In last year’s Marion County title game, Franklin Central lost to Brebeuf Jesuit 8-1. 

Monday’s tilt was originally set for last Thursday at Victory Field, but heavy rains washed out the contest.  It was rescheduled for Franklin Central’s home field due to the Indianapolis Indians' current eight-game homestand.