FORTVILLE — “Weird.”
Mt. Vernon head coach Ryan Carr had no other word to describe the past few weeks in the Hoosier Heritage Conference.
Unpredictable every series so far, the conference race heated up this past weekend as the HHC’s two ranked powers fell, and Mt. Vernon played a key role Saturday.
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The Marauders (6-3, 3-2) earned a doubleheader split (losing 4-3 and winning 8-1) against front-runner New Palestine at home, handing the Class 3A No. 3 Dragons (9-3, 5-1) their first HHC loss.
The night prior, Greenfield-Central (5-6, 3-3) swept 3A No. 9 Yorktown (6-4, 4-4). New Castle (7-7, 2-4), which swept Greenfield-Central early this month turned some heads with a 2-0 win against 4A Cathedral, who enters this week ranked second in the state.
“They beat Cathedral,” Carr said of New Castle. “What is going on? It’s just so weird.”
Mt. Vernon’s victory Saturday, paired with the Dragons’ loss to 3A Guerin Catholic (currently ranked sixth) at Victory Field on Friday, pushed New Palestine down to seventh in this week’s rankings.
The Dragons have lost two of their past three.
“This win was big for the conference. Someone finally took them down, and it’s huge for us. We feel like we can play with anybody,” Carr said. “They’re ranked in the state and Watson is just amazing. Their one through five is legit for any level.”
The Dragons still hold the lead in the HHC with Mt. Vernon second and Greenfield-Central third in the standings.
Dragons hold on
Their doubleheader with Mt. Vernon was called on Thursday night due to rain and lightning, but Dragons’ starter Zachary Lovell wasn’t fazed by the two-day layoff.The senior ace resumed his spot on the mound and powered through to earn the his fourth win of the year despite the Marauders nearly rallying with the bases loaded three times.
Lovell (4-0) tossed seven innings, allowed two earned runs and struck out eight as New Palestine won 4-3 after leading 4-1 before the game was postponed.
“If I had to pick a pitcher to be in that situation, I’d pick him,” New Palestine head coach Shawn Lyons said. “Zach’s been battle tested, so that’s always comforting as a coach to know we can put him out there in that situation.”
Lovell faced adversity from the first pitch with the bases loaded and one out.
He immediately went to work, striking out Wyatt Vestal and getting Brandon Turner to fly out to center field.
The Marauders scored two more runs in the fifth and sixth innings behind a Braydon Augustinovicz sacrifice fly and an RBI-single by Ryan Beck, but couldn’t complete the comeback in the seventh.
Beck finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs, Vestal was 2-for-4 and Travis Mason was 2-for-3 with two doubles. Turner added a double.
Mt. Vernon opened the bottom half of the seventh with three straight hits and an intentional walk with one out, but Lovell worked out of the jam.
New Palestine was outhit 10-8 and didn’t score a run with just two more hits in the rescheduled reboot.
Mitch McCarthy and Tanner Lilly combined to strikeout three batters through four innings and held the Dragons scoreless.
“I thought Mt. Vernon even outplayed us in the first one,” Lyons said. “We had guys on third base twice with nobody out and didn’t get them in. We didn’t execute a bunt a couple of times, so that’s disappointing.”
Marauders find rhythm
After leaving 12 runners on base in the first game, the Marauders’ lineup opened it up in the finale with 10 hits and a big three-run second inning.“Our last conference matchup we beat Shelbyville and lost. It seems like when you split, the team that loses the last game feels like you lost both games,” Carr said. “Knowing that we fought really hard against a really good team in the first game after being down 4-1; we knew we could play with them.”
The belief started with Beck, who improved to 2-1 on the season with a complete-game two-hitter.
“I told him, ‘today, you have to show me the Division I stuff,’” Carr said. “He’s really smart, and when he has to bring it, he brings it.”
Spending the offseason working with Dustin Glant, the head coach at Anderson University, Beck allowed one walk, one earned run and struck out eight as the Marauders lineup provided ample support.
“Coach wanted me to go 100 percent against this big competition today,” Beck said. “I just started rolling and everything was working out for me. We knew we needed to play our best to win.”
The entire order came up to the plate for the Marauders in the top of the second inning and Luke Smoot, Beck and Travis Mason all capitalized with RBIs.
Ten hitters stepped into the box in the sixth, and Mt. Vernon hung four runs on New Palestine before tacking on an insurance run in the seventh.
Mason was 1-for-4 with two RBIs and Tyler Franklin went 3-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI. Smoot and Augustinovicz each had RBIs.
Beck helped his own cause with a 2-for-3 performance with a pair of RBIs.
“That was the mantra all last week. New Pal is going to hit you in the mouth, do you bounce back? They hit us in the mouth pretty hard Thursday before the rain came,” Carr said. “We bounced back.”
New Palestine’s lone run came in the third off an RBI-double by Evan Fitzgerald with two outs. Through the final four innings, the Dragons had only one base runner.
“This season is only seven weeks long, starting from April 4 to May 26, but in the scheme of things, it’s long,” Lyons said. “It’s a mental grind, and I told them, ‘you’re going to have ups and downs in a season, just stick with it.’ It’s a process, and we’ll come out in the end.”
The Dragons opened the year 8-0 but have lost three of their last four, including one HHC game, which has opened the door the final month of the regular season.
“This conference has been weird this year. Greenfield swept Yorktown, which surprised us,” Franklin said. “Anything can happen from here on out.”
Solving the riddle
On Thursday, the Dragons’ two big hitters in Jason Hall-Manley and Keegan Watson drove in all four runs for New Palestine.Watson, a Nebraska recruit, was 2-for-3 with two runs, two RBIs, a double and a two-run home run. Hall-Manley finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a double.
The Marauders pitching staff allowed them to reach base once — combined — when the game resumed Saturday.
The duo struck out six times against the Marauders in the their eight at-bats.
“Seeing them Thursday, and we stuck around (Friday night) and watched them against Luke Buehler, and he shut them down, and finishing out Game 1, we saw some things,” Carr said. “Our pitching staff right now is locked in and (Brian) Downs is doing a really good job of calling pitches. I can’t give him enough credit.”
Watson is hitting .387 on the season with five home runs and 12 RBIs. Hall-Manley has 11 RBIs.
New Palestine 4, Mt. Vernon 3
NPHS (9-2, 5-0 HHC);202;000;0;—;4;8;2
MVHS (5-3, 2-2 HHC);100;011;0;—;3;10;0
WP: Zachary Lovell LP: Kennedy Parker
HR: Keegan Watson (NP). 3B: Evan Fitzgerald, Colby Jenkins (NP). 2B: K. Watson, Jason Hall-Manley (NP), Travis Mason 2, Brandon Turner (MV).
Notables: T. Mason 2-3, 2 runs; Ryan Beck 2-3, 2 RBIs; Wyatt Vestal 2-4 (MV); Z. Lovell 7 IP, 2 ER, 8 K; Braden Roberts 2-2, 2 runs; K. Watson 2-3, 2 runs, 2 RBIs; J. Hall-Manley 2-4, 2 RBIs (NP).
Mt. Vernon 8, New Palestine 1
MVHS (6-3, 3-2 HHC);030;004;1;—;8;10;1
NPHS (9-3, 5-1 HHC);001;000;0;—;1;2;0
WP: Ryan Beck. LP: Keegan Watson
2B: Evan Fitzgerald (NP).
Notables: Travis Mason 1-4, 2 RBIs; R. Beck 2-3, 2 RBIs; Braydon Augustinovicz 1-4, RBI; Brandon Turner 2-2, 3 runs; Tyler Franklin 3-3, 2 runs, RBI; Luke Smoot 1-4, RBI (MV).
Hoosier Heritage Conference Standings
* Records as of April 24, 2016