PLAINFIELD — A special blend of magic and talent is required reach the state final four.
Anyone associated with New Palestine baseball, a program that has reached the semistate round three times in the past five years, knows this all too well.
Saturday at the Class 3A Plainfield Semistate, the Dragons dominated Gibson Southern for a sizable chunk of the contest before their charm ran out – and the Titans were there to seize the day and keep their state championship dreams alive.
No. 9 Gibson Southern (27-7) rallied past NP (23-10) for an 8-5 victory Saturday, punching its ticket to the State Finals by scoring six runs in its final two at-bats. The Titans’ reward is a trip to their first-ever state title game against 3A’s top-ranked team, Andrean (30-4), 7 p.m. Saturday at Victory Field in Indianapolis.
“Got our hands full, I’m sure. Sounds like they’ve been good all year. They’re the No. 1 team,” Gibson Southern coach Chris May said of Andrean, which owns three 3A state championships (2005, 2009-10). “We got beat by the No. 1 team, Jasper, last year in the regional finals.
“So, we’ll go up there and give them our best and hopefully (starting pitcher) Dillon (Whitten) will have his rest. And maybe this was his off game and he’ll shut them down. But I know we’ve got a Herculean task waiting for us.”
The Dragons started fast Saturday off Whitten, scoring two in the first inning, and then added another run in the third and two more in the fifth to take a 5-2 advantage into the bottom of the fifth against the Titans’ ace, who sported an ERA of 1.03 coming into Saturday.
But things unraveled for NP in the home half of the fifth, with Gibson Southern pounding out four hits and scoring four runs – with the help of an Dragon error – and taking a 6-5 lead.
After the red and white left the bases loaded for the second time in the sixth, Titan Brooks Martin clubbed a two-run home run to left field in the bottom of the sixth for the final margin.
There was plenty of good for New Palestine Saturday, especially offensively. The Dragons notched 11 hits – the 16th time they had at least 10 base knocks in 2014 – and were retired in order just once. But, they also left 11 base runners on base, encountered a few key defensive lapses and struggled pitching-wise for the first time in over three weeks.
“We were in control of the game – hitting the ball, looking first-pitch fastball and we were ripping (Whitten),” NP coach Shawn Lyons said prior to speaking to his team for the final time this spring. “Just a couple of bad breaks, lose a ball in the sun – we practiced at 1 o’clock in the afternoon (Friday) for that reason.
“That’s just athletics. That’s what I’m going to tell them. They’re hurting right now, which they should be. You’ve got to be talented and you’ve go to have good karma. Today, the karma part of it wasn’t really on our side.”
The play Lyons referenced occurred in the bottom of the third inning. Gibson Southern had the bases loaded with two outs. Dragon starter Evan Vance – who uncharacteristically walked back-to-back batters with one out – recovered to get a strikeout and now faced Whitten (.431 average).
Whitten sent a sky-high pop-up into short left field seemingly destined to be the third out, but it found land and the Titans scored two runs and received a much-needed injection of energy.
“The shortstop (Nick Butcher) was underneath it and then he kind of lost it. We told (left fielder) Jason (Hall-Manley) yesterday, ‘If you see a fly ball, go back (Butcher) up because you never know if they’re going to lose it.’ We had both guys there. It was just a bad break.”
NP responded in the fifth, scoring two runs on Evan Hickman’s double off the left-field wall – but the Titans had a bigger answer in the bottom half of the frame. A run scored on a Dragon error, then Caleb Wagner and Matthew Harpeneau added key base hits to hand Gibson Southern a 6-5 lead – the first time the Dragons had trailed since falling behind 3-0 after a half inning in the Sectional 26 championship game vs. Brebeuf Jesuit.
The Dragons loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth on two singles and a hit batsman, bringing the red-hot Logan Gilvin in the plate. Gilvin, whose run-scoring single in the third was his seventh RBI in the past five games, worked a full count and fouled off multiple pitches before striking out looking on a close pitch down in the strike zone.
“That was a tough call,” said Lyons, who had a heated discussion with the home-plate umpire after the inning. “We certainly don’t point any fingers in any direction umpire-wise. It’s just a tough pitch that didn’t go our way on a 3-2 count. We had one of our hottest hitters at the plate.”
Keegan Watson, whose two-run single supplied New Palestine with a 2-0 advantage after a half inning, Gilvin and Hickman – the Dragons’ No. 5, 6 and 8 hitters, respectively – tallied two hits apiece. That trio will return in 2015, as will Hall-Manley, NP’s No. 7 hitter who was 1-for-3 Saturday. The team’s 5-8 hitters went 7-for-12 off Whitten, who allowed five earned runs on eight hits. The senior struck out eight and but allowed six free passes (two walks, four hit batsman).
The Dragons’ pitching staff struggled for the first time in the postseason, yielding more than three earned runs for the first time since a 5-3 loss to Mt. Vernon on May 23.
The semistate round has proved to be a bit of a roadblock for recently New Palestine, which advanced to the 3A State Finals in 2003 (lost) and 2004 (won). The Dragons lost 1-0 to Jasper at Southridge in 2010, then fell 8-3 to Roncalli at Plainfield two years ago in the first season of their two-year run in 4A.
Seven NP seniors, a handful of whom have received steady playing time since they were sophomores, put on their school colors for the final time Saturday.
“Today, it stings, but when they step back in a couple weeks, they’re going to realize their accomplishments,” Lyons said.
Notes: Gibson Southern’s other semistate crown came in 1994. … Andrean run-ruled Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger 18-2 Saturday in five innings at the Plymouth Semistate. …. Had New Palestine won, the Dragons would be facing a squad they beat 3-2 in the 2004 State Finals. … Gibson Southern’s softball team fell 2-0 to Leo in the 3A state championship game Saturday at Ben Davis.
Class 3A Semistate
At Plainfield, Saturday
Gibson Southern 8, New Palestine 5
SCORE BY INNINGS R H E
NP (23-10) 201 020 0 — 5 11 2
GS (27-7) 002 042 X — 8 11 1
WP: Whitten (9-2). LP: Vance (6-3).
NP: Watson 2-3, 2 2B, 2 RBI, HBP, R; Gilvin 2-3, RBI, BB; Hickman 2-3, 2B, 2 RBI, HBP; Hall-Manley 1-3, R, HBP.
GS: Whitten 7 IP, 5 ER, 8 K, 2 BB, 4 HBP, 3-4, 4 RBI; Martin 2-4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R; Wagner 2-4, RBI; Harpenau 1-3, 2B, 2 RBI; Smith 1-3, 2 R, BB.
Baseball, Victory Field, Indianapolis
Admission: $9 each day.
Television: All four state championship games will air live on Fox Sports Indiana.
Webstream: For viewers outside of Fox Sports Indiana coverage area, a live stream will be available at IHSAAtv.org. For those within FSI coverage area, the stream will be available only on delayed basis following conclusion of the telecast.
Friday, June 20
Class 4A — Noblesville (27-8) vs. Terre Haute North (25-7), 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 21
Class A — Rockville (28-3) vs. Shakamak (26-6), 1 p.m.
Class 2A — Wapahani (29-4) vs. Evansville Mater Dei (23-9), 4 p.m.
Class 3A — Andrean (30-4) vs. Gibson Southern (24-7), 7 p.m.
Softball, Saturday at Ben Davis
North Miami 3, North Daviess 1, 10 inn.
South Spencer 1, Southmont 0
Leo 2, Gibson Southern 0
Bloomington South 6, Hamilton SE 2