NEW LONDON — It's never too late.
Notre Dame High School's baseball team was staring at a five-run deficit with just an inning and a half to go, but the Nikes came together as a team once more.
Trenton Blythe's RBI-single in the bottom of the sixth lifted the Nikes to a 9-8 victory over Cardinal in the semifinals of the Class 1A district tournament at New London Thursday night.
"The kids have come together as a team," Notre Dame coach Jeff Klein said. "Team baseball is what wins at this point."
The Nikes (14-16) advance to Saturday's 7 p.m. championship game against Iowa Mennonite School (15-9), which upset eighth-ranked New London in Thursday's second game.
"The other night (after Tuesday's 4-2 win over Holy Trinity in the quarterfinals) we talked about Trenton Blythe coming in with two-out hits," Klein said. "Tonight, it was everybody."
It was particularly the top of the Nike lineup. The first five in the batting order combined for 11 hits and all nine RBIs in 20 at bats. Leadoff Drew Chiprez went 3-for-4 with a double and four RBIs. Lucas Anderson, batting in the two-spot, was 4-for-4 with two RBIs.
"You can never go wrong when the top of your order is contributing," Klein said.
Trailing 8-3 entering the bottom of the sixth, Blythe led off with a single and, an out later, went to second on Ryle Koenig's single to left. Josh Smith flied to center for the second out.
Notre Dame's No. 9 hitter, Carson Chiprez, drew a walk on four straight pitches to load the bases. Drew Chiprez singled to left, scoring two runs. Anderson followed with a bloop single to left that scored two more runs. Nick Skerik lived on a shortstop error, pushing Anderson to second base. Mitchell Brent singled Anderson home to tie the score at 8. Blythe came up for a second time in the iinning and singled again, scoring Skerik with what proved to be the winning run. Brent was thrown out at home, attempting to stretch from first base, for the final out.
Brady Oleson took the mound for Notre Dame in the top of the seventh and gave up a walk, but no hits or runs. Jackson Brent (2-0) took the win in relief of starter Skerik. Oleson picked up a save.
Cardinal took the lead in the third inning with three unearned runs on a Kade Chance single, a walk, a hit batsman and two Nike errors. Notre Dame got a run back in the bottom of the inning. With two outs, Carson Chiprez singled and scored on a Drew Chiprez double to left.
Cardinal made it 5-1 with two runs in the top of the fifth on three walks and Cameron Honomichl double. Notre Dame struck twice in the bottom of the fifth. Ryle Koenig reached on an error and two outs later scored on Drew Chiprez's single. Lucas singled, moving Drew Chiprez to third Skerik's infield single scored Drew Chiprez. The Nikes trailed 5-3.
Cardinal took its biggest lead in the top of the sixth, scoring three runs on three singles and a hit batsman.
"The (tough) schedule we played is going to help us now," Klein said.
In one regular season meeting, IMS topped Notre Dame 5-3. The Nikes also lost two one-run games to New London.
"There's a lot of parity in the (SEI Superconference) South Division and the Superconference in general," Klein said. South Division champion "New London has done everything and then some."
IMS 8, NEW LONDON 3: Iowa Mennonite took the lead for good in the second inning with a walk, a Blake Bontrager double to center and a two-run single by Jacob Boller, putting IMS up 3-2. In the third, Eli Ours singled, stole second, reached third on a wild pitch and scored on Isaiah Swantz's sacrifice fly for a 4-2 IMS lead.
IMS added three runs in the fifth on two singles and two doubles for a 7-2 lead, then scored its final run in the sixth on a hit batsman and a Tiger throwing error.
New London scored a run in the seventh on consecutive singles by Britt Noel and Sam Loyd and two wild pitches.
IMS opened the game with a run in the first on an RBI-double by Trevor Leyden, but New London took the lead in the bottom of the inning.
Isaac McSorley led off with a triple to right center and scored on Noel's single. Loyd's double sent Noel home for a 2-1 edge.
"It is what it is," said New London coach Brad Helmerson, whose Tigers ended their season at 21-3. "We didn't do a good job hitting. The umpire was a little tight (calling strikes). I don't want to blame an umpire, but when your all-district pitcher (Noel) throws 68 pitches in three innings, it's tight. When you have to pitch it down the middle belt-high, it's tough."
Noel (6-2) suffered the loss, giving up four runs on five hits and two walks in three innings. He struck out two.
Noel and Loyd, who relieved the final four innings, led the New London hitters with two hits and an RBI each.
"We beat (IMS) 11-1" in the regular season, Helmerson said, "but I knew they'd be a better team. "They had a couple players out of position or maybe not even here. I think we got it in our heads and started pressing early. It's not always the best team that wins, but the team that plays best. We didn't play to our ability."
Blake Bontrager (4-3) went the distance for the win. He gave up three runs on seven hits and five walks. He struck out three.
New London loses three seniors — Loyd, a .418 hitter, Noel (.329) and Javis Krieger (.250). "Those are three hard holes to fill," Helmerson said.
WP — Jackson Brent (2-0). LP — Jentry Arbogast. Two or more hits — Cardinal: Cameron Honomichl 2-3; Notre Dame: Drew Chiprez 3-4, Lucas Anderson 4-4, Trenton Blythe 2-4. 2B — Honomichl, D Chiprez. RBI — Kade Chance (C), Colby Aschenbrenner (C) 2, Honomichl 3, D Chiprez 4, Anderson 2, Nick Skerik (ND), Mitchell Brent (ND), Blythe.
Records — Cardinal 16-10, Notre Dame 14-16.
New London;200;000;1;—;3; 7;2
WP — Blake Bontrager (4-3). LP — Britt Noel (6-2). Two or more hits — Iowa Mennonite School: Reggie Bontrager 2-2; New London: Noel 2-4, Sam Loyd 2-3. 2B — Trevor Leyden (IMS), B Bontrager 2, Loyd. 3B — Isaac McSorley (NL) RBI — Leyden, Isaiah Swants (IMS), B Bontrager 2, Jacob Boller (IMS) 4, Noel, Loyd.
Records — Iowa Mennonite 15-9, New London 21-3.