CC

Some things never change. After defeating No. 5 Northside Christian, 11-7, the No. 1 Claiborne Christian Crusaders will appear in their 12th state championship game over the past 14 full-length seasons.

And that’s why those in attendance witnessed a reserved celebration.

“We’ll celebrate after we hold the championship trophy,” Claiborne Christian head coach Chad Olinde said. “For here, it’s win or bust. These guys are happy, of course, but they’re ready to get on the bus and go practice down south.”

The Crusaders will play for the Division V State Championship at 2 p.m. Friday in Hammond.

Claiborne Christian grabbed the momentum in the first inning.

Three walks drawn in the first inning loaded the bases with two outs for the Crusaders. Holden Aultman, facing a full count, drew a walk to break the scoreless tie in the bottom of the first.

With a 1-0 lead, Logan Wedrall worked quickly through Northside Christian’s lineup for a one-two-three inning before the Crusaders loaded the bases again in the bottom frame. With one out, Nick Womack added another run with a sacrifice fly, but the Warriors limited the damage once again.

A passed ball in the third inning allowed Northside Christian to score its first run of the game, and more importantly make it a 2-1 ballgame. Then Carson Tweedel’s RBI double with two outs that followed tied the contest.

The tie was short lived, however. Aultman singled in the third and ultimately scored on a wild pitch to regain the one-run lead for the Crusaders.

“The team’s mentality is to fight,” Olinde said. “They fight every pitch. They believe in each other. It’s been a long season for them, but they’ve improved so much. These guys are good. I’m just excited for them and just so proud of them.”

The Warriors changed pitchers in the third, as Hudson Suiter allowed three runs on three hits and five walks in 2.2 innings pitched.

Wedrall walked a couple batters, himself, in the fourth. Two walks and a single loaded the bases with one out. But Claiborne Christian held. The Warriors stranded the runners when Kainon Suiter grounded into an inning-ending double play.

That would prove costly, as the Crusaders scored three more runs in the bottom frame. Claiborne Christian’s Womack drove in Josh Vaughn, who reached on his second single of the game. Wedrall then helped his case with an RBI single in the next at bat to extend the Crusaders lead to 5-2. Claiborne Christian wasn’t through in the inning, though, as A.J. Allen’s RBI double capped a three-run inning.

Claiborne Christian broke the game open in the fifth when Vaughn’s third single scored a run, Joden Mitchell hit an RBI double and Womack singled in another to bring the Crusaders lead to 9-2.

Aiden Joyner’s 2-RBI single in the sixth extended Claiborne Christian’s lead to 11-2. Claiborne Christian had 13 hits in the win.

Things got a little too interesting in the seventh if you’re a Claiborne Christian fan. The Crusaders went from being one run away from ending the contest to staring at the potential tying run at the plate.

Wedrall gave up a couple of runs in the top of the seventh before handing the ball to Aultman with two outs. Wedrall gave up six earned runs on 12 hits and one walk in 6.2 innings pitched. Aultman surrendered a 2-RBI single, which made it an 11-7 contest. Olinde turned to Allen for the final out, and after walking the first batter to load the bases, he drew a groundout to seal the victory.

“Logan’s our go-to guy,” Olinde said. “He’s a senior. He’s been here forever. He’s does what he does, which is throw strikes and let his defense work… As you can see, they came back and that’s something we fought a lot this year. I was glad AJ was able to close the door for us.”

The Crusaders are aiming for their seventh state championship, but this time the team will make the trek to Hammond rather than Sulphur to claim another Division V State Championship.

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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