Through two games at the 13-15 Babe Ruth World Series in Monticello, Ark., North Syracuse's All-Stars had not faced any real adversity.
But when it arrived Sunday afternoon in the form of a three-run deficit against a home-state team from Bryant, Ark., North Syracuse was ready - and roared back to win, 9-4, and claim a spot in the playoffs later this week.
For this win, North Syracuse can largely thank Joe Bodnar, who didn't start in either of the first two contests, but took center stage here.
Bryant put up the first runs North Syracuse has allowed in this tournament in the bottom of the first inning and had a 3-0 edge through two frames.
Then, in the top of the third, Bodnar first emerged, drawing a walk and coming around to score his team's first run. An inning later, Ryan O'Kane smacked a solo home run, cutting North Syracuse's deficit to 3-2.
Bryant built the margin back to 4-2 in the fourth, but North Syracuse escaped worse damage as Brandon Kapcinski relieved Alex Caruso with the bases loaded and only allowed one run, then blanked Bryant the rest of the way.
It remained 4-2 until the top of the sixth inning. North Syracuse got two runners on base without a hit, thanks to Pat Wright getting hit and Eric Hamilton drawing a walk. That brought up Bodnar.
Expecting a first-pitch fastball, Bodnar got it belt-high - and drilled the offering over the fence, a three-run home run that gave North Syracuse a 5-4 lead.
Not stopping there, North Syracuse tacked on four insurance runs in the top of the seventh, two of them coming home on Kapcinski's double. And Bodnar singled for his fourth RBI, just to be sure.
Though assured of a shot at the title, North Syracuse could clinch first place in the American division if it beats another Arkansas team, Whithall (who hasn't won in three tries), on Monday afternoon. Both North Syracuse and Greenville (N.C.) are tied for the American division lead with equal 3-0 marks.