PENDLETON — Huddled around home plate at Bill Stoudt Field, the Greenfield-Central Cougars rose their coveted black flag in championship celebration.
A makeshift motivational symbol, Greenfield-Central senior Drey Jameson called it. Nothing fancy, just a stick and a cloth, one that spoke volumes — louder than the team’s victory chants or the Cougars’ cheerful applause.
“We’re just a bunch of underdogs, so we had nothing to lose,” Jameson remarked after the Cougars beat New Castle 2-1 to win the Class 4A Sectional 9 title at Pendleton Heights High School.
“We go out and play our hardest every time. The chemistry is what helped keep our team together. We had people that bought in and wanted to be here all the time. That was a big key.”
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Collectively in pursuit of the program’s first sectional title since 2013, their black flag outlined their plan. The path was ripe for raiding. Win two under the radar and give the opposition more than they could handle, especially with Jameson on the mound.
“We did enough, and we came in and did what we wanted to do,” Cougars head coach Robbie Miller said. “Any time you have Drey on the mound, you have a chance against anybody in the state.”
Jameson, a Ball State signee, was the epitome of a gamer in the spotlight.
After the Cougars run ruled Anderson 10-0 in the morning to advance into the finals, the senior rocketed the first pitch of the game over the right-center field fence to put the Cougars up 1-0.
From there, he slammed the door with a masterful 107-pitch complete-game victory.
At 5-1 on the season prior to the sectional finals, Jameson won game No. 6 with 12 strikeouts, two walks and only four hits allowed. He now has 98 strikeouts in 58.0 innings.
“He really only got in trouble one time, and that’s when they did what they were supposed to do,” Miller said.
Down 2-0, the New Castle Trojans cut the Cougars’ lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth in the only frame Jameson found himself in a bind.
Bryce Pinkard opened the inning with a leadoff double down the third-base line, and Drew Barber scored the junior with a one-out single up the middle.
Jameson quieted the threat with back-to-back strikeouts. Before the Trojans broke through to halt Jameson’s attempt at a fifth shutout this season, the power right-hander retired seven straight hitters — four on third strike.
“There are a lot of kids in that situation and time in the game that would panic. I felt good about him. With him on the mound, I knew what he was going to do,” Miller said.
The Cougars insurance run cross the plate in the top of the fifth with one out and Noah Ramsey on second after looping a double to left field.
New Castle starter David Bennett intentionally walked Jameson to setup a double play, and against Tyler Farrell, the senior hurler induced a grounder to second base.
A bad hop and an error cost the Trojans the putout and gifted a run to Greenfield-Central as pinch runner Mason Bussel ran around the horn from second to score.
“We practice these situations. As a coaching staff you want to put the team in the best possible scenario to compete, and we did that. Unfortunately, we didn’t make a play,” New Castle head coach Brad King said. “That’s part of baseball.”
Once the Cougars’ margin grew so did Jameson’s confidence.
“I told Miller after we scored that second run that two runs would win us this game,” Jameson said. “Sure enough it did.”
In the teams’ last meeting, Jameson pitched a complete-game one-hitter to beat the Trojans 1-0 during the regular season. This time, he wasn’t focused on statistics. He wanted nothing more than the W.
“My approach coming into this game wasn’t to no-hit them. My approach was to throw a low amount of pitches, have my team behind me and let it work,” Jameson said.
“In the beginning I was commanding my fastball, but then in the middle I relied on my curveball. That got me out and over, and from there I got my fastball back. I knew I had my team behind me, so I kept going after them.”
Bennett nearly matched Jameson, going the distance while surrendering one earned run with three walks, an intentional walk and four strikeouts.
New Castle (21-9) upset Pendleton Heights, the 2017 Hoosier Heritage Conference champions, 4-0 in the first round of the sectional tournament. In the semifinals Monday morning, they beat Richmond 5-4 to advance.
Bennett was 6-2 entering the finals with a 2.30 ERA.
New Castle edged Greenfield-Central for third in the HHC this year at 9-5, splitting their doubleheader in early April. The Cougars were fourth at 8-7.
Greenfield-Central broke the season series tie in clutch fashion.
“When you know each other like this, runs are going to be hard to come by,” King said. “Jameson pitched a great game. He’s a great pitcher and he’s been that way all year. He’s fun to watch.
“(Bennett) wanted that challenge, and against any other team he would have gotten the win today. But we got a buzz saw with Drey.”
The Cougars (18-10) will now face unbeaten No. 2 Cathedral in the Decatur Central Regional semifinals on Saturday at noon. Avon and Roncalli will play in the other semifinal at 10 a.m. with the championship at 8 p.m.
Greenfield-Central 2, New Castle 1
WP: Drey Jameson (6-1) LP: David Bennett
HR: Drey Jameson (GC).
2B: Jameson, Noah Ramsey (GC); Nathan Hacker, Bryce Pinkard (NC).
Notables: Jameson 7.0 IP, 12 K, 2 BB, 4 H, 2-3, RBI; Tyler Farrell 1-4, Noah Ramsey 1-3 (GC); Bennett 7.0 IP, 3 BB, 4 K, 4 H (NC).