NEW PALESTINE — The 2017 Hoosier Heritage Conference race is a tight one, and Mother Nature has made it so that it will be decided in unorthodox fashion.
Normally scheduled for Fridays, rain has delayed back-to-back doubleheader contests for New Palestine, who swept the Delta Eagles to improve to 15-3 and 8-2 in the HHC and into a first-place tie with Pendleton Heights.
“It’s been a bit tough these last few weeks,” New Palestine head coach Shawn Lyons said afterwards. “We even had to hold a practice at 84 Lumber.”
It was Senior Night for the Dragons, and in the first game two seniors slugged the Dragons to an easy victory. Nebraska-bound Keegan Watson hit a three-run home run to straight-away center field in the first inning, a two-run home run in the third inning, and a triple off the outfield fence in the fifth inning.
For the rest of Game 1 and Game 2, Delta would walk Watson. He finished the night 3-for-4 with four walks, two home runs, and seven RBIs. Watson would also pitch six innings and record nine strikeouts on only two hits.
“Keegan has had a tough couple of weeks,” Lyons said. “But to his credit he’s listened to the coaches and tonight he was really staying behind the ball and it carried for him.”
Senior Tyler Martin also added two no-doubter solo home runs in Game 1 to propel the Dragons to an easy 10-1 victory. With Greenfield-Central’s first game win against Pendleton Heights, the Dragons were now tied for the HHC lead.
Game 2 was more of the same for the Dragons, but the offense was more manufactured. After an intentional walk of Watson, senior Jacob Smith drove him in with a double off the left-field fence to give the Dragons a lead they would not relinquish in a 7-0 victory.
Smith would finish the game 2-for-2 with three RBIs and two walks. Kyle Gardner again showcased the Dragons squad depth with a dominant pitching performance of six innings, five strikeouts, and only four scattered hits.
“He was our mid-week starter last year, and he’s worked his way into being a really solid Friday night started,” Lyons said.
New Pal’s results combined with Pendleton Heights’ on Monday night ensures that the two teams will be tied atop the standings for their doubleheader, scheduled for Friday night in Pendleton. Weather permitting of course.
“We’ve had some deep runs in the state tournament these last few years,” Lyons said. “And the quality of our conference has played a big part in that, so hopefully this year’s close race will fuel us going forward.”
New Palestine 10, Delta 1
DHS (6-10, 2-9); 000;001;0;—;1;3;0
NPHS (14-3, 7-2); 403;211;x;—;10;14;2
WP: Keegan Watson, 5-1. LP: Adam Haynes, 2-2.
HR: Tyler Martin, Keegan Watson 2 (NP). 3B: Keegan Watson (NP) 2B: Colby Jenkins, Jacob Smith(NP).
Notable: K. Watson 3-3, 2 HR, 1 3B, 7 RBI, 6 IP, 2H, 9 K; T. Martin 2-4, 2 HR, 2 RBI.
New Palestine 7, Delta 0
NPHS (15-3, 8-2); 110;030;2;—;7;7;2
DHS (6-11, 2-10); 000;000;0;—;0;5;1
WP: Kyle Gardner, 2-1. LP: Jake Van Pelt, 1-3.
2B: Jacob Smith, Jack Walker (NP)
Notable: Jacob Smith 2-2, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 1 2B.