Northport falls for the first time

Mustangs split DH with Odessa-Harr.After scraping past Northeast 1B North foe Selkirk earlier in the week, Northport High (15-1) faced its first real tests of the season last Saturday in a non-league doubleheader with Odessa-Harrington (14-4), leader of the Northeast 1B South.“They were as good as we had heard through our scouting reports,” NHS head coach Don Baribault said of O-H. “And although it was a non-league doubleheader, I think both teams knew that these were statement games and measuring sticks. Talking to their coach, Bruce Todd, I got the feeling that they had not really been challenged and worried about that down the road in the playoffs.”Northport has been challenged, particularly of late. The Mustangs struggled to get past Selkirk back on April 24, sweeping a doubleheader, 5-4, 11-7.Sore-armed ace rested last weekendIt hasn’t helped matters any that Northport’s best pitcher, junior right-hander Jeremiah Johnson, has a sore/tired arm. He didn’t pitch against Odessa-Harrington.“Although it was tempting to use him (Johnson) in these big games, assistant coach Erik Stark helped convince me to rest him,” Baribault said. Josh Konkler earned the start in the opener. He didn’t disappoint. Konkler used a variety of off-speed pitches and mixed in his fastball well to keep the visitor’s off-balance all game long in a come-from-behind 4-3 Northport win.“Josh was very efficient and worked out of trouble all game,” Baribault said. The game was tied at 2-2 after six innings. Both teams scored on a variety of “Small Ball” early-on. Odessa-Harrington plated two runs in the fifth inning to get on the board. Northport had taken a 1-0 lead in the third with a run and tacked on one more in the fifth.In the seventh inning, O/H managed to get a pair of runners on and Baribault debated about getting Konkler. But he stuck with his starter, who surrendered a two-out single that gave the visitors a 3-2 lead.Walk-off winNHS answered in dramatic fashion in the bottom of the seventh inning. Daulton Burke led off with a single and Brandon Hedrick worked a walk. Johnson sacrificed both runners to second and third before Baribault called for the safety squeeze.Konkler laid down the bunt perfectly to score Burke. When O/H had trouble with the throw to first base, Hedrick headed for home and was able to slide in with the winning run and the Mustangs’ second straight walk-off win.Konkler improved his record to 5-0.Odessa-Harrington dominated game two against Northport, winning 15-5.“We fielded the ball very poorly (seven errors) and did not support our pitching staff,” Baribault said. Burke, Hedrick and Jace Shaw pitched game two for NHS. “They didn’t pitch badly, but the unearned runs really hurt us,” Baribault said. “We really booted it around. That really took us out of the game.“That was a very disappointing effort by my squad. I do think we needed to learn that with a tough loss…but we also accomplished a split against a very good team and were able to rest Johnson for the post-season.”Baribault said practice sessions this week will be devoted to shoring up a sometimes porous defense and working on two strike hitting.In the second game loss, Northport managed only three hits. O/H pounded Northport’s trio of pitchers for 10 hits.Selkirk gives NHS all they can handleScrappy Selkirk gave Northport all it could handle on April 24 in Northport.The opener, a 5-4 NHS win, was a pitching battle between Johnson and Avery Miller of Selkirk. Johnson tossed a three-hitter and Miller only gave up four hits.Northport nursed a 3-1 lead through four innings before Selkirk plated two runs in the fifth inning to tie it up. The Rangers scored another run in the top of the seventh before NHS was able to come up with more late-game heroics.Selkirk and Miller quickly erased Northport’s first two hitters in the bottom of the seventh. But the Mustangs got two runners aboard with two out for Johnson, who worked a full count and was hit by Miller’s 3-2 pitch. With the bases loaded, Konkler, behind 0-2 in the count, lined a double to the right-centerfield gap that plated two runs and lifted NHS to a walk-off win.Despite the win, Northport was sloppy on defense with five errors. All four Selkirk runs were unearned.In the second game, Konkler went the first four innings on the hill and Burke finished up in the 11-7 win. Northport trailed 2-0 before plating three runs in the bottom of the first to take the lead for good. The Mustangs added two more in the second, three in the fifth inning and three more in the sixth. NHS collected 10 hits. Selkirk had nine.Burke connected on a long home run (his sixth) and Hedrick blasted his third round-tripper to plate two more runs. “We were sharper in this game, but still allowed six unearned runs,” Baribault said. “I can tell you that defense will be our focus in coming days. “I think we have been lulled into thinking that our pitchers get so many strikeouts that defense is secondary. I have seen this before…when you are in the playoffs against great teams, you need to field the ball and not rely on the strikeout.”Baribault had praise for catcher Hedrick.“He is one of the best catchers in the area,” his coach said. “Brandon receives the ball really well, calls a great game and is starting to really shut down the running games of opposing teams.”The strong-armed Hedrick threw out six Selkirk base-runners.“That really was the difference in those games,” Baribault said.Ben Short got his first start in the outfield against Selkirk and had several quality at bats.“He really sparked us when we needed it,” his coach said. “Ben is a very clutch player when he has the opportunity.”