NEW PALESTINE — Any New Palestine baseball fans concerned the exodus of talent that occurred at the end of last spring would affect this year’s batch of Dragons had their minds put at ease Saturday.
New Palestine shredded Delta pitching during opening-day action as it piled up 22 hits and scored 23 runs in a 9-0, 14-7 doubleheader sweep of the Dragons’ Hoosier Heritage Conference foe.
“We were a little tentative at first,” Dragons coach Shawn Lyons said after the games. “But we got more aggressive at the plate, and then we really took off.”
By “at first,” Lyons simply means the first time through the batting order of Game 1, because the Dragons jumped all over the Eagles pitching the second time around.
The New Palestine offense built a 3-0 lead in the second inning without notching a hit by taking advantage of wild starter Mitchell Hahn, who walked four consecutive Dragons and beaned another with a pitch.
Three-hole hitter Keegan Watson, however, got the offense rolling in the third when he laced a double into in the left-center field gap. Watson’s teammates then went on a tear, collecting five more hits in the inning en route to six runs and a 9-0 lead.
Nine runs was more than enough support for starter Andy Edwards (1-0) and reliever Zach Lovell, who combined for eight strikeouts in the shutout.
“Andy battled,” Lyons said of his starter, who gave his team 4.2 innings of work. “He didn’t have his best stuff, but sometimes you learn a lot more about pitchers when they don’t have their best stuff. He battled, and Zach Lovell came in and did a nice job providing a change of pace.”
Watson and Jason Hall-Manley led the charge for New Palestine in Game 2. The 3-4 hitters combined for seven hits and nine RBIs in the victory.
Hall-Manley (4 for 4, 6 RBIs) delivered the decisive blow in the fifth, sending a first-pitch belt-high fastball over the right-field fence for a three-run homer.
The round-tripper gave New Palestine an 11-3 lead and served as a rude welcoming for Delta reliever Cade Jones.
“I heard it was his first varsity pitch,” the junior slugger said with a smile after the game. “He said it didn’t really go the way he wanted it to.”
Senior shortstop Tyler Woodcock and Lovell each added a pair of hits in Game 2, while Lovell knocked in three runners and senior catcher Evan Hickman two.
Sign of res
Though it was just the first series of the year and he is just a sophomore, Watson already has the respect and fear of his opponents.
During Game 2 of the doubleheader Saturday, Delta coaches instructed their pitchers to intentionally walk Watson on two occasions.
The second occurred with two outs and no one on base. Watson was visibly frustrated as he jogged down to first. He would later score after a Hall-Manely walk and a Hickman single.
“We knew that was going to happen this year, but Jason Hall-Manley, you know, when we put those guys back-to-back, you’re going to have to pick your poison,” Lyons said. “It’s just part of the game. They’re young as a sophomore and a junior, and they’re just going to have to relax and don’t show any emotion, and if it happens, it happens. That’s a sign of respect, actually.”
The Dragons were scheduled to host Martinsville on Monday before traveling to Greenfield-Central (0-2, 0-2 HHC) on Friday to take on the Cougars in another conference doubleheader.