NEW PALESTINE — They declared their mission early. Before the end of every preseason practice, the Mt. Vernon baseball team huddled up and shouted two words: “Conference champs!”
On Friday, the final day of the league season, that goal was within reach. The Marauders traveled to New Palestine to take on their Hancock County and Hoosier Heritage Conference foes in a regular-season ending doubleheader.
With a couple of wins and a little help from league-leading Yorktown, the Marauders could win outright or at least earn a share of the conference title.
But the Marauders weren’t the team seeking the league crown. The Dragons, too, had visions of sharing the title.
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Before Friday, Yorktown sat at 9-3 in the HHC, while Mt. Vernon was 8-4 and New Palestine 7-5.
Yorktown ended the Dragons’ hopes early, though, as they steamrolled Greenfield-Central 10-0 in the Game 1 of their doubleheader. However, they left the door open for Mt. Vernon when they lost the second game, 7-1, to the Cougars.
The Marauders took the first step toward a share of the crown with a 10-6 Game 1 win, but got into trouble early in Game 2.
The Dragons, now looking to play spoiler, owned a 5-4 lead into the sixth inning. Unfortunately, the game ended too late for press time.
The Marauders (15-11, 9-4 HHC) entered the opener expecting to ride the arm of their ace, Zach Spears, to victory.
But that is not how it worked out.
The Dragons (16-11, 7-6 HHC) chased Spears after scoring three runs off him in the first inning, highlighted by Cody Chandler’s two-out RBI double that gave New Palestine a 3-2 lead.
The duty of carrying the Marauders then fell to relief pitcher Kennedy Parker.
He was up the the challenge. The junior pitched the finals six innings, allowing three runs, with none earned, while striking out four,
“He pitched his butt off,” first-year Mt. Vernon coach Ryan Carr said. “He was just outstanding.”
The Marauders rode Parker’s excellence and an opportunistic offense to victory.
Mt. Vernon seemed to strike every time New Palestine made a mistake.
In the top of the third, Mt. Vernon took advantage of a pair of Dragons errors with two outs to score three runs. Wyatt Vestal delivered the big blow, when he yanked a two-RBI single down the third-base line to give the black and gold a 5-3 lead.
The Marauders capitalized on a Dragons’ error again in the sixth, when Vetal’s double plated a runner who had reached on an error. The run extended Mt. Vernon’s lead to 10-6.
The Dragons committed three errors in the game, giving away four unearned runs.
“When we have not been successful that’s been our M.O.,” New Palestine coach Shawn Lyons said. “It’s been our pitching and our defense (causing problems) all year.”
Offensively, the Dragons got off to a hot start against Spears, but once he was taken out of the game, Lyons said, his team lost its intensity.
Evan Hickman finished the game 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI to lead the Dragons. Keegan Watson also had an RBI single, as he went 1-for-4.
For the Marauders, Spears swatted a two-run home run in the first inning and finished 2-for-3 with a walk and four RBI. Noah Powell and Max Wills also added two hits apiece.
Hickman got the Dragons on the board in the first inning with an RBI groundout to out New Palestine up 1-0.
Mt. Vernon evened it up with one of their own in the first, after Noah Powell drew a leadoff walk and came around to score on a Dragons’ error.
New Palestine responded with four runs in the second inning, taking advantage of a couple Mt. Vernon errors. Andy Edwards drew a bases-loaded walk, Watson knocked in a run on a fielder’s choice; and Hickman drove in the final run with a double to give New Palestine a 5-1 lead.
The Marauders would get one back in the third before scoring twice more in the bottom of the fifth to bring the score to 5-4. Christian Smith’s RBI-double capped the scoring before press time. See the Daily Reporter online for a complete Game 2 recap.
Yorktown earned at least a share of the league title with a 10-4 record. Mt. Vernon was 9-4 prior to conclusion of Game 2. Pendleton Heights is at 9-5, while New Palestine was at 7-6. The Dragons are followed by Greenfield-Central at 7-7, Shelbyville at 5-9, New Castle at 4-8 and Delta at 2-10. New Castle and Delta finish the HHC slate with a doubleheader today.
New Palestine’s Jason Hall-Manley sustained an injury during Thursday’s contest against Greenwood and is likely out for the season, Lyons said.
The junior outfielder injured his knee while running out of the box and pulled up limp. He underwent an MRI today, and the results were not positive, Lyons said, suggesting a possible stress fracture.
“We’ll play the guys that are healthy,” Lyons said. “That’s all you can do. It’s not like we can call anybody up from AAA. It’s just next man up.”
The slugger will he hard to replace as he was among the Dragons most productive hitters with a .341 batting average, 23 runs scored, 31 RBI and a team-best four home runs.
New Palestine kicks off its state tournament appearance with a matchup Wednesday night against Heron in the Class 3A Bishop Chatard Sectional.
The Marauders begin what they hope will be a long tournament run Wednesday at Pendleton Heights (13-11).