PENDLETON — His thousand-yard stare said it all. Keegan Watson wanted to finish what he started on Friday, and he didn’t care what it took.
Pitted against summer baseball alley Chayce McDermott of Pendleton Heights in a pitcher’s duel at Bill Stoudt Field, Watson went the distance for New Palestine, pitching a complete-game gem.
Watson struck out 14 batters and allowed four hits with four walks to break the rivals’ tie atop the Hoosier Heritage Conference standings behind an 121-pitch victory.
“I knew I had to get in there and throw strikes, hit the zone. A hundred and 20 pitches was my max. I hit 121, but I just went in and got the job done,” Watson said.
The Class 3A No. 1 New Palestine Dragons won the key HHC doubleheader opener 4-2. The Dragons (16-4, 9-3 HHC) fell to the Arabians (15-5, 9-3 HHC) in the second game, as the hosts turned the tables to win 6-0 and keep both locked for first in the conference.
New Palestine was seeking to defended its title streak, but now they will need to wait until next Friday night to secure at least a share of the championship in its final HHC doubleheader against New Castle on the road.
Early on Friday, it appeared nothing would stop the Dragons from a potential sweep.
McDermott (5-1) carried a 1.89 ERA into the matchup and 64 strikeouts in 33.1 innings this season. Through 5.1 innings against the Dragons, he racked up 12 strikeouts and allowed four hits, but New Palestine maximized each one.
Colby Jenkins reached base four times, including three times against McDermott to set the table on three occasions.
Jenkins was 2-for-2 with a pair of walks. He reached base in the top of the first and the third, which Watson followed by lining RBI doubles in each frame.
“I play with McDermott over the travel season, so I knew he was a good pitcher. I knew he had a good fastball and a good curveball. Coaches told us he was throwing about 80 percent fastballs, and I figured he would change it up a little bit because we have some pretty good hitters in our program,” Watson said. “But I sat on fastball and it paid off for me.”
Watson was 3-for-3 and had two doubles with a walk, hitting behind Jenkins in the third hole.
McDermott was chased in the sixth inning after the Dragons loaded the bases. A sacrifice fly by Tyler Martin with one out put New Palestine up 3-2. The Arabians tied the game momentarily 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth on a two-run bases loaded single by Corbin Cox.
Watson was almost pulled prior to Cox’s hit, but New Palestine head coach Shawn Lyons stuck with his ace. Watson (6-1) responded in kind.
“We had (Jarrett) Jaques ready to go, but he told me he wanted it, and he finished it off. He got better as the game went on,” Lyons said. “That’s where his advanced P.E. and hard work in the weight room paid off.”
While McDermott, a Ball State recruit, retired stretches of six and seven straight while striking out five in a row during his time on the mound, Watson seven of the last eight to finish off the game.
An RBI walk by Jacob Smith with the bases loaded in the top of the seventh gave Watson the insurance run he needed.
“We’re playing pretty good right now. A great team like Pendleton it kind of forces us to play at our top potential,” said Watson, a Nebraska signee.
Estson Stull was the equalizer in Game 2, however.
The IU Kokomo recruit struck out six through five innings and allow just one hit as the Arabians evened the score.
The Dragons only had two hits against Stull and Cox through seven innings.
“We lost two one-run games and one two-run game this season. We’ve been right in there all season. We’ve been playing good baseball. Defensively and pitching we’re really getting it done,” Lyons said. “When you face good pitching like we did tonight, thought, you just have to keep grinding.”
New Palestine 4, Pendleton Heights 2
NP (16-3, 9-2 HHC);101;001;1;—;4;6;1
PH (14-5, 8-3 HHC);000;020;0;—;2;4;1
WP: Keegan Watson (NP) LP: Chayce McDermott (PH)
RBI: Keegan Watson 2, Tyler Martin, Jacob Smith (NP). Corbin Cox 2 (PH)
2B: Keegan Watson 2 (NP). Zach Lawson (PH).
Notable: Chayce McDermott 5.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 12 K, Corbin Cox 1-3, Adam Carr 2 BB (PH); Keegan Watson 7.0 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 14 K, 3-3, BB, Colby Jenkins 2-2, 2 BB, 3 runs, Tyler Martin sac fly (NP)
Pendleton Heights 6, New Palestine 0
PH (15-5, 9-3 HHC);120;030;0;—;6;8;0
NP (16-4, 9-3 HHC);000;000;0;—;0;2;3
WP: Eston Stull (PH) LP: Kyle Gardner (NP)
RBI: Jake Harris 2, Eston Stull, Corbin Cox, Brandon Helpling 2 (PH);
2B: Jake Harris 2 (PH).