TWICE IS NICE

INDIANAPOLIS — The Dragons played with fire during Monday night’s sectional championship, and fittingly, they came away unscathed.

The New Palestine baseball team escaped one perilous situation after another to emerge from the Indianapolis Bishop Chatard Sectional 26 title game a 4-1 winner against Brebeuf Jesuit.

For the Class 3A Dragons, it’s their 16th sectional title in program history and second in as many years.

“I told them after the game, this feeling never gets old,” New Palestine coach Shawn Lyons said just minutes after watching his team dog pile on the pitcher’s mound in celebration. “But my heart can’t take as much as it used to.”

Lyons’ blood pressure must have been shooting through the roof all night.

Inning after pressure-packed inning, starting pitcher Hogan Fulkerson and the Dragons found themselves in a jam only to wiggle their way out of it.

In total, Fulkerson allowed 10 Braves to reach base, five of whom made it all the way to third. But that was where most of their journeys were cut short thanks to Fulkerson’s gritty pitching and the Dragons’ stellar defense.

“I didn’t have my best stuff today,” Fulkerson said after the game. “But I just battled and kept with it. I just had to put a lot of trust in my defense.”

It was well-placed trust.

In the third inning, with the game already tied 1-1, Brebeuf (15-11) threatened to break things open with runners on first and third and only one out. But Fulkerson coaxed the Braves’ No. 3 hitter Clay Farren to ground into a 6-4-3 inning-ending double play.

Fulkerson pitched around another hit-and-an-error in the fourth and then relied on his defense to make a game-saving play.

With the bases loaded and only one out, Brebeuf’s Michael Hogan smashed a shot into right field. Fortunately, sophomore Keegan Watson came to the rescue, again.

During Saturday’s 3-2 semifinal win against Bishop Chatard, the sophomore belted a game-tying homer and drove in the winning run.

This time he turned a double play. Watson charged hard, caught the ball on the run, righted himself and fired a laser beam toward home plate where Evan Hickman applied the tag to keep Brebeuf from scoring.

“I knew I got him as soon as I threw it,” said Watson, who was mobbed by his teammates as he ran triumphantly back to the dugout.

That was the play of the game, Lyons said, and the emotion it stirred in the Dragons carried into the next half inning.

In the bottom of the sixth, it was Braden Roberts’ turn to come up clutch for New Palestine.

After Watson reached on an error, Evan Hickman singled and Cody Chandler was hit by a pitch. The junior outfielder then broke a 1-1 tie with an RBI-single into right field.

“He had been 0-2, and when he came back to the dugout after his second at-bat, I told him, ‘It’s OK because the next time you come to the plate, it’s going to be a big one,’” Lyons said. “He stepped up in a big spot.”

Zach Lovell, the man who pitched the Dragons into the title game with a complete-game, two-hit victory Saturday against Bishop Chatard, was up next and provided some insurance with an RBI line-drive single into left to give the Dragons a 3-1 lead.

Finally, Logan Gilvin came off the bench to deliver a pinch-hit sacrifice fly, increasing the Dragons’ advantage to 4-1.

Fulkerson took over from there. After plunking the leadoff batter, he finished off Brebeuf in the seventh by striking out two of the final three Braves he saw.

Fulkerson (7-1) allowed just four hits in his seven innings of work while striking out three.

Hickman finished 2-for-3 with an RBI as did Lovell.

“I’m just so happy for this team,” Lyons said. “It’s been a long journey this year, and no matter what adversity they faced, they just kept going. It’s really nice to know that they’re getting rewarded for all of their hard work.”

The Dragons now advance to Saturday’s Crawfordsville Regional semifinals, where they will take on Frankfort, the winner of the Crawfordsville Sectional. The Hot Dogs (18-5) defeated No. 7 Crawfordsville (24-8) 3-0 in Monday night’s sectional title game.