FORTVILLE — Heavy rainfall and lightning washed out Thursday night’s Hoosier Heritage Conference baseball doubleheader between Mt. Vernon and New Palestine, but both teams were eager to turn the page — and for good reason.
Today, both programs will head to downtown Indianapolis to play in the 2016 Victory Field Classic.
“That’s the palace. That’s where you strive to play, at Victory Field,” New Palestine head coach Shawn Lyons remarked on the showcase opportunity. “The kids have been excited for that since they made the announcement back in January. We’re looking forward to it.”
The Class 4A Mt. Vernon Marauders (4-2) will open the annual event at 5:30 p.m. when they face 4A Decatur Central (7-2). The 3A third-ranked Dragons (8-1) will play 3A No. 7 Guerin Catholic (8-3) in the finale at approximately 8 p.m.
“I think it’s awesome for the guys,” Mt. Vernon head coach Ryan Carr said. “Anytime you get to play in a venue that is outside of the norm, there’s a special vibe to it.”
The Marauders and Dragons hope to carry the offensive momentum established early on Thursday into their games at the home park of the Indianapolis Indians tonight.
Able to complete two innings at Mt. Vernon High School before game officials called it, the Dragons led 4-1 in the bottom of the third as the Marauders threatened with the bases loaded and one out.
New Palestine opened with two extra-base hits and a two-run single threaded down the line into left field by Jason Hall-Manley, an Eastern Illinois commit, in the first inning.
A two-run bomb over the left-center field fence by Keegan Watson, a Nebraska commit, gave the Dragons five hits in three innings.
“We’re trying to hit one through nine. Keegan struggled early, but he’s got hot of late,” Lyons said. “Jason is hitting behind him, so that’s always nice to have him right there. Hitting wise, I’m happy. On the mound, we haven’t completely found it yet.”
The Marauders’ swings were dead on, too, as Travis Mason opened the bottom of the first with a hard-hit double to the outfield. Ryan Beck scored Mason from third base with a sacrifice, and the lineup charged out with five hits of their own.
“I was really excited to see what was going to happen with Wyatt (Vestal) coming up with the bases loaded with one out and then Brandon Turner after him,” Carr said. “We were attacking the ball and putting it in play.”
The key is driving in runners, Carr emphasized.
In both of Mt. Vernon’s losses this year, 5-0 vs. Fishers and 5-3 against HHC foe Shelbyville, the Marauders squandered scoring chances. In six games, they’ve left 53 runners on base.
“That was the deal with the Fishers game and the Shelbyville game that we lost. We had ample opportunities, we just didn’t come through with guys on base,” Carr said.
As a team, the Marauders are hitting .310, have belted three home runs and have 25 RBIs with 27 runs scored.
Vestal has a .375 batting average and a team-best seven RBIs. Noah Powell, a St. Joseph’s recruit, is hitting .350, moving from leadoff to cleanup, and Ryan Beck is carrying a .389 average.
Decatur Central is hitting .320 as a team led by senior Jameson Franklin, who has a .462 batting average and 12 RBIs in nine games.
Meanwhile, Guerin Catholic will look to trade hit for hit against New Palestine’s potent lineup.
The Golden Eagles carry a .331 team average and have stolen 36 bases. The junior duo of Grant Fermion (.487, 13 RBIs) and Matt Olovich (.364, 11 RBIs) have powered the offense.
New Palestine will counter with a .478 on-base percentage and .347 batting average.
Six regulars are hitting .300 or better with five well above .400, including Watson, who hits third, at .435 and 10 RBIs (not including Thursday).
“The top of their lineup is unbelievable,” Carr said. “The way they hit the ball is remarkable. They are really talented.”
They are even more impressive when they lose. Falling to Roncalli 7-4 at home on Wednesday night, the Dragons trailed 6-0, but they clawed back scoring one run in four straight innings.
They matched the Rebels with eight hits despite suffering their first setback of the year.
“We played well. We threw three pitchers that had a total of two varsity innings, and we got down 6-0, and they threw their No. 2 at us. We hit him as hard as he’s been hit all year,” Lyons said. “I was wasn’t discouraged at all. I was more encouraged with that loss then our Whiteland win (8-5 on Monday).”
The Dragons fell behind 3-0 to Whiteland and were down 5-4 with two errors before scoring four runs in the top of the seventh to win.
Execution from start to finish is what Lyons hopes to see at Victory Field and on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. when the Marauders and Dragons will resume their doubleheader.
“Hopefully, after a good night’s sleep, we’ll regroup,” Lyons said. “(Mt. Vernon) had bases loaded, one out and hadn’t hit the ball in the infield yet. There were a few self-induced situations.”