MERRILLVILLE | Early in March, Crown Point senior Nick Nauracy was throwing a bullpen session during varsity baseball tryouts and wondering if this would be the year.
After three straight seasons of being cut and playing Senior Babe Ruth baseball instead, Nauracy was starting to give up hope he'd be where he was Wednesday.
With hard work and determination finally paying off this season, Nauracy started the sectional opener against vaunted LaPorte and threw a complete-game five-hitter as the Bulldogs beat the Slicers 3-1 at the Class 4A Merrillville Sectional.
"I knew I could do this, play at this level," said Nauracy, who improved to 7-2. "We knew we had the worst draw in the sectional, but we came out and said we can do this. We knew we could beat them."
The Bulldogs (17-11) advanced to Friday's semifinals. They'll face either Chesterton or Michigan City, whose nightcap was truncated by a storm that rolled through Merrillville shortly before 9 p.m. The Trojans were up 5-2 and had the bases loaded with one out in the top of the seventh inning when the game was suspended. Play is scheduled to resume at 4 p.m. today before Portage plays Merrillville and Valparaiso-Hobart follows.
Throwing a snazzy array of breaking balls, mostly curves with a cutter mixed in for good measure, Nauracy had eight strikeouts, all in the final four innings. He loaded the bases in the seventh but avoided damage.
"Nick came up with some great pitches," C.P. coach Steve Strayer said. "He learns from his mistakes, and that's big. He keeps getting better every time out."
Nauracy's biggest boost wasn't a big pitch; rather, it was a big inning by his teammates.
C.P. scored three runs in the fourth to overcome a 1-0 deficit. Leadoff hitter Zach Plesac, who was 3-for-3, had a two-out, two-run single to put the ‘Dogs up 3-1. Joe Hopman's one-out single had tied the game earlier in the inning.
LaPorte went up 1-0 on Nicholas Latham's RBI double in the second inning. After that Nauracy scattered four hits, two hit batters and a walk. He allowed one of each of those in the seventh, which was almost his undoing. However, he struck out the final two hitters of the game for the win.
"It felt great," Nauracy said. "It was the biggest game of my life."
The Slicers (20-10) left seven runners on base.
"They strung hits together; we didn't," LaPorte coach Scott Upp said. "We didn't do the best job adjusting to curveballs."
In the chilly second game, Chesterton put together enough hits to be ahead comfortably when the storm hit. Austin Cooley had two hits and two runs, and K.J. Zelenika had a two-run single in the second inning to put the Trojans up 2-0.