NEW PALESTINE — Andrew Roberts could have quit on Monday night.
Pulled in favor of pinch hitter in the the fifth inning, the New Palestine senior didn’t check out. Instead, he locked in.
Reinserted into the Dragons’ lineup in the top of the sixth, Roberts reasserted himself in the bottom of the seventh, and it paid dividends.
“Coach preaches to us to never give up,” the second baseman said. “I’ve been pinch hit for a couple of times before, and I wanted to prove myself and show what I can do.”
Roberts, the team’s No. 9 hole hitter, laced a line drive to left field with one out against visiting Whiteland (6-3) to kick off the game’s decisive rally.
During the next at-bat, Roberts stole second base and advanced to third on an errant throw, setting up a two-out walk-off RBI single by Colby Jenkins and a 5-4 come-from-behind New Palestine victory.
“We took him out, but he didn’t pout,” New Palestine head coach Shawn Lyons said. “He came back up in a tough situation and gets on, steals a base and gets to third. That’s the moral of the story. He didn’t pout. He stayed in the game, and look what happened.”
The Class 3A No. 2 Dragons (8-1) never gave up despite falling behind 3-0 after three innings. The lineup struggled against Whiteland starter Iyan Pelfree, who threw five innings with eight strikeouts and two walks.
The hard-throwing right-hander scatter three hits — along with his breaking pitches — and retired eight straight before the Dragons charged back in the bottom of the fourth.
An RBI-single by Tyler Martin, who went 1-for-2, scored Jenkins for the first run with one out, and a sacrifice fly to center field by Kyle Gardner cut the deficit to 3-2.
Pelfree entered the game with a 6.00 ERA after a rough outing against Perry Meridian on April 7. He surrendered five runs in a brief 2.1 innings. He was much sharper in his second appearance of the season.
“He also had five walks, but he was in the strike zone most of the night,” Lyons said. “He had a fastball, but he had a secondary pitch, so you couldn’t sit on it.”
The Dragons worked Pelfree to 90-plus pitches and scored two more runs in the bottom of the fifth off a wild pitch and a passed ball to tie the game at 4-all.
“Over the course of 28 games, you’re going to have two or three duds, and a lot of times you don’t win them,” Lyons said. “We’ve had successful teams, state championship teams, and we’ve always have those two or three and think what happened to our team? To their credit, we found a way.”
Whiteland, which was riding a four-game winning streak scored a pair of runs in the top of the second off of Dragons’ starter Jarrett Jaques.
An RBI sacrifice fly to left field by Luke Helton pushed the first run across before an RBI-single from Roy Ramey made it 2-0. Jacob Leistner scored the second run after reaching base with a double to put to runners in scoring position.
An RBI grounder up the middle and into center field in the top of the third by Leistner put Whiteland ahead 3-0 as he finished 2-for-4 at the plate.
Bailey Watson drove in the Warriors’ final run in the top of the fifth with a triple to right field.
The Warriors challenged again in the sixth, but reliever Camerson Pitzer shut them down as he faced back-to-back bases loaded situations.
Pitzer pitched 4.1 innings with three hits surrendered, three strikeouts and three walks for the win.
With the bases loaded, Pitzer struck out Chase Bennett swinging and induced a fly ball to right field against Jacob Holzhausen to end the threat.
“Sometimes pitching isn’t always easy, and tonight wasn’t easy for him, but he persevered. He had a fastball and was able to get out of some tough jams,” Lyons said. “He had some adversity, but we liked what we saw in the winter time, and he’s a great kid and very coachable. I’m proud of him. He grew up a little bit in a tough situation.”
Roberts kept his cool throughout, however, getting the Dragons back on a winning track after their seven-game winning streak was snapped this past Friday in a doubleheader against Hoosier Heritage Conference foe Yorktown.
“This was really important. We have a tough season ahead from here on out,” Roberts said. “We don’t have any easy teams to go against, so this was big.”
Up next, the Dragons (3-1 HHC) face 4A No. 4 Cathedral at Marian University today at 6:30 p.m. On Friday, they have a crucial conference doubleheader against visiting Mt. Vernon (3-4, 2-2 HHC).
“We have a big week ahead,” Lyons said. “I told them, we’re grading on a curve tonight.”
New Palestine 5, Whiteland 4
WP: Cameron Pitzer (NP). LP: Austin Corn (W).
3B: Bailey Watson (W). 2B: Jacob Leistner (W).
RBI: Colby Jenkins 1, Tyler Martin 1, Kyle Gardner 1 (NP); B. Watson 1, J. Leistner 1, Luke Helton 1, Roy Ramey 1 (W).
Notable: C. Jenkins 2-3, run; T. Martin 1-2; Keegan Watson 0-1, 2 BB, Andrew Roberts 1-2, run (NP); Leistner 2-4, run (W).