PENDLETON — Escaping one rally on its own and dodging a separate deficit with the help of Mother Nature, the New Palestine baseball team finds itself in the thick of the Hoosier Heritage Conference race.
The visiting Dragons beat Pendleton Heights 10-6 in Game 1 on Friday after surrendering a 6-1 lead, then fell behind 1-0 early in Game 2 before lightning forced cancellation of the nightcap.
Game 2 of the key HHC tilt will start anew today after the conclusion of the junior varsity game (10 a.m. start).
With the pre-lightning victory, New Palestine improved to 15-8 overall and 7-4 in the conference. Yorktown, which didn’t play Friday, is in the lead at 17-3 overall and 9-3 in league play with two HHC games remaining.
“It’s a nice little challenge for us,” said New Palestine coach Shawn Lyons, whose team will finish HHC action next Friday against Mt. Vernon, while Yorktown will end with Shelbyville. “We have to beat two good programs; Pendleton Heights, who is up near the conference, as well; and Mt. Vernon is playing really good baseball of late. I figure we have to win all four games to have a chance.”
After a painful start and soothing ending in the opener, the club is 25 percent of the way toward its 4-0 HHC-capping goal.
New Palestine leadoff hitter Braden Roberts laced a single down the rightfield line in the top of the first, then injured his shoulder diving back into the base. James Crumlin replaced Roberts, the centerfielder, in the lineup.
Crumlin later came around to score on a Jason Hall-Manley groundout, and the Dragons had an early 1-0 lead. They added four runs in a two-hit, two-walk, one-error second inning that chased Pendleton Heights starter Jake Harris after just one and one-third innings.
Harris entered the game as the conference’s ERA leader at 0.33, with one earned run allowed in 21 innings.
“We hit all the way through the lineup,” said Lyons, whose No. 8 and No. 9 hitters scored six runs while reaching base a combined eight times in the Game 1 win. “They put the ball in play. For us to be successful, we have to have a good percentage of our lineup hitting. You’ve got to have at least six or seven guys going, to pick each other up.”
Down 6-1 through three, the Arabians fought back for a 6-6 tie heading into the seventh with a rally fueled in part by a Thomas Hall third-inning home run. (Hall also hit a Game 2 solo home run which was wiped off the books with the lightning).
But the visitors drew three straight walks in the top of the seventh to load the bases for Keegan Watson, who smacked an inside fastball down the third base line for a two-run double to make it 8-6. Evan Hickman delivered New Palestine’s ninth run on a sacrifice fly, and a Cody Chandler double made it a 10-6 game.
Starter Andy Edwards and Zachary Lovell (3-3) combined on the mound for the Dragons. Lovell took over for Edwards with two outs in the fourth inning and allowed one earned run on two hits the rest of the way.
“I thought Zach came in a did a really nice job, calmed us down,” Lyons said. “That’s two nights in a row we’ve had big leads. (Thursday) against Franklin Central, 6-0, they tie it up. Tonight, same thing. And we didn’t flinch, battled through it and got Ws. So, that bodes well for us.”
Tyler Woodcock, New Palestine’s No. 9 hitter, went 2-for-2 with two walks, one RBI and two runs scored. Lovell, the No. 8 hitter who started out at designated hitter, went 2-for-3 with a walk, one RBI and three runs scored. Hall-Manley and Watson finished with two RBIs apiece, and Crumlin, Chandler and Hickman each drove in one run.
Hickman and Chandler will continue their baseball careers at Marian University. … New Palestine will host Brebeuf on Monday, visit Greenwood on Thursday and close the year with a HHC twinbill at home against Mt. Vernon (9-10, 6-4 HHC). … Pendleton Heights will host Richmond on Monday and Lapel on Tuesday before returning to HHC action at home against Shelbyville next Friday in a regular-season ending doubleheader. … Roberts, who didn’t return after the Game 1 leadoff injury, wore a right arm sling the rest of the evening and is day-to-day.