NEW PALESTINE — A double dose of drama was served up Friday night at New Palestine.
The top two teams in the Hoosier Heritage Conference gave each other their best, and each emerged with a walkoff win, leaving neither with any gained ground.
In Game 1, Keegan Watson delivered a game-winning RBI triple in the bottom of the seventh to give the Dragons a 5-4 victory. In Game 2, Yorktown returned the favor by taking advantage of a couple of late New Palestine miscues to walk away with a 4-3 win.
A split was not exactly what the Dragons (10-6, 6-3 HHC), who remain one game behind Yorktown (10-3, 6-3 HHC), were looking for entering the evening. However, New Palestine coach Shawn Lyons said, considering the quality of baseball they played and the quality of opponent they faced, it’s a step in the right direction.
“I think we played better baseball. We had a tough week,” Lyons said of his team, which had dropped two straight entering Friday. “We lost a game last night in the last inning (against Connersville), and Cathedral handled us. So coming in here tonight against a good program and sticking in the conference race, it just shows our guys how good we can be”
Strolling up to the plate in a 4-4 game in the bottom of the seventh, Watson was experiencing an unusual game, at least for him.
The Dragons’ sophomore slugger, leading his team in hitting heading into the day (.562), was 0-for-3. In the 15 contests before Friday, there had only been one other instance in which he did not collect at least one hit, and that was when he was walked in all three of his plate appearances against Martinsville.
With his streak on the line and a runner on first in the tie game, Watson cracked a fly ball deep over the head of Yorktown’s center fielder.
Braden Roberts, who singled ahead of Watson and homered earlier in the game, flew around the bases and scored the game-winning run.
Though Watson’s last-inning heroics delivered a victory to New Palestine, the true hero of the opening game, Lyons said, was starting pitcher Andy Edwards.
Edwards entered the evening facing a stiff challenge: Out-pitch Yorktown ace and Purdue commit Jacob Preston.
He was up to the task.
Edwards pitched a complete game, allowing four runs, all earned, struck out six and walked three.
The senior southpaw carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning, before allowing Yorktown’s Brady Horine to single.
He ran into trouble late, surrendering a two-run home run to Nathan Phillips in the sixth and giving up a couple more in the seventh, but Lyons was proud of the way Edwards battled. He credited the effort to the pitcher’s work during the middle of the week.
“Our midweek bullpen sessions seem to be making more headway with him,” Lyons said. “We talk about when you go to the bullpen, you can think, when you go out to the mound, you can’t think. And so he got a lot good work in this week and that helped him today.”
Not only did Edwards pitch to a complete-game victory, he also came up clutch with the bat.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, with the game knotted at two, Edwards smacked a two-strike, two-out, two-run triple to over the right fielder’s head to give New Palestine a 4-2 lead.
The aforementioned Roberts’ home run for the Dragons came in the bottom of the fifth inning off the future Boilermaker Preston. It was just the second earned run Preston has given up in 26 innings of work this season.
“We moved Braden to the outfield this season to get him some at-bats, and now he’s hitting leadoff for us,” Lyons said. “He’s making big-time progress. You can see the confidence building in him.”
Misplays and missed opportunities spelled doom for the Dragons in Game 2.
Despite receiving another stellar pitching performance, this one from Zach Lovell, the Dragons could not capitalize and earn the two-game sweep.
In the final inning, with the game knotted at three, the Dragons committed two costly errors.
The first mishap allowed the winning run to reach the base to lead off the inning. The second, a lazy fly ball that dropped between a pair of New Palestine defenders, served as Yorktown’s walk-off winner.
“Twilight got us,” a frustrated Lyons said. “Playing under these lights is tough. It’s no excuse, but we caught a couple of bad breaks.”
Lyons was referring to not only the final inning but another fly ball the fell between Dragons defenders earlier in the game that also cost them a run. To make matters worse, New Palestine could have avoided the costing such a significant price if they only managed to come up with a clutch hit or two in the late innings.
In the sixth and the seventh frames combined, the Dragons stranded five runners. They stranded eight in all.
“It’s not what you hit,” Lyons said. “It’s when you hit. When you play a good team like Yorktown, you have to be able to add on, because you know they’re not going to go away. It’s something we preach. It’s not always something easy to do.”
The Dragons’ failures prevented Lovell, who was making his first start this season, from earning a victory despite throwing a complete game. He allowed four runs, three earned and struck out six.
New Palestine coaching legend Marvin Shepler threw out the first pitch of Friday’s doubleheader against Yorktown.
Shepler coached Dragons baseball from 1968-2001. He steered the ship of 14 conference champions, seven sectional champions and two regional champions.
Shepler also coached the Dragons football team for decades, and is a member of the Indiana Football Hall of Fame. The football field at New Palestine is named in his honor.