GREENFIELD — Out with the defending Class 4A baseball runner-ups, in with a difficult reunion.
Greenfield-Central blanked Roncalli 5-0 at Molinder Field Tuesday night, with starter Seth Adams and reliever Mitch Gibson combining on a four-hit shutout.
The Rebels (0-1) came within one win of their first state championship a year ago, defeating New Palestine 8-3 at the Plainfield Semistate before falling 1-0 in the State Finals to Lake Central.
As for the Cougars (3-1), they turn their attention to a Friday night doubleheader versus visiting Pendleton Heights. The Arabians’ new manager is Travis Keesling, who spent five years heading G-C before departing for his alma mater in August.
“I’m sure coach Keesling is going to be over there and he’s going to want to win the baseball game, but he’s going to be proud to see what he helped build over here. But, it’s going to be a weird day,” said first-year Greenfield-Central coach Brian Murphy with a laugh. “It really is. It’s going to be weird.”
Tuesday’s home opener was an outlier compared with the Cougars’ first three games in which they scored 23 runs and surrendered 21.
Adams, a sophomore right-hander who logged the third-most innings (26) on the team as a freshman, set the tone early, working the outside corner with his repertoire of a fastball, a changeup and a slider.
Roncalli went down in order in the first and third innings, but moved runners to second and third with one out in the second. Adams promptly struck out Christian Beard and Chris Fey looking, the latter on a full count.
With one out in the fourth, Adams hit Dan Harris with a pitch and yielded a single to Pauly Milto to put runners on first and second. He struck out Nick Koontz swinging for the second out, but Christian Beard lined a 0-2 pitch up the middle for a single, sending Harris rounding third and heading home.
But, G-C center fielder Brendon Neal fielded the ball cleanly and uncorked a laser of a throw plate-ward that started left of the pitcher’s mound and landed in catcher Jayden Jackson mitt well in advance of Harris’ slide.
“I trusted my catcher, trusted my fielders,” offered Adams, who struck out eight, allowed four hits and earned the victory. “I tried to get ground balls and get everybody out.”
After the Rebels’ Tyler Shutlee reached on a two-out error to position runners at first and second in the fifth, Murphy walked to the mound took the ball from Adams.
On came junior shortstop Mitch Gibson, who pitched all of two innings in 2012. Following a double steal, Gibson — whose cousin is former G-C standout and Twins’ first-round pick Kyle Gibson — struck out Aaron Schnell on five pitches.
Gibson pitched two and a third hitless innings, ringing up five of the eight Rebels he encountered.
“I thought the key for Mitchell and for Seth was that they really hit their spots,” explained Murphy, who previously coached at Warren Central. “If you spot the ball on a day like today when guys don’t want to hit it off the cap or hit it off the handle, you’re going to be successful.”
The temperature was 46 degrees at first pitch, but the frostiness of the air didn’t keep the Cougar bats from netting a hot start in the home half of the first.
Jackson led off and took the first pitch from Schnell in the ribcage. The senior moved up to second on a passed ball, then took third after Gibson laid a bunt single down the third-base line.
That brought up Curtiss Irving, the team’s returning leader in average, doubles and RBI.
The Ohio State recruit sliced the first pitch he saw down the right-field line. The ball landed out of the reach of Fey, scoring Jackson for an RBI double.
Neal walked to load the bases. Then, Cam Gruell then hit into a 1-2 fielder’s choice, forcing Gibson out at home. But Adam Rains worked a five-pitch walk to force in another run.
The home team struck gold again in the third inning. Adams singled with one out, then scored all the way from first on junior Hayden Kissee’s two-bagger to deep right-center.
Greenfield-Central plated a run in the fifth when pinch-hitter Slater Rush flicked a base hit to right, scoring fellow pinch-hitter Kyle Gleeson, and added another in the sixth when Rains picked up another bases-loaded walk, this time on a full-count.
Although the Cougars recorded nine hits, reached base 18 times and went down in order just once — which took place in the fourth inning — they struck out 10 times, stranded 11 runners on base and left the bases loaded in the first, second and sixth frames.
“We had some big hits there. The guys who made mistakes, they were approach strikeouts. They’re good hitters,” Murphy offered. “That’s not going to happen all the time. They’re a little bummed out today because they left some opportunities out there.”
Last week, G-C lost its opener on a walk-off hit by Lawrence North before sweeping the first two contests of its Hoosier Heritage Conference docket at Delta.
The chance for a 4-0 conference start is there against a Pendleton team that dropped its season-opener 13-2 to Hamilton Southeastern Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a good early challenge for us. I know those boys can play and have a lot of experience,” Keesling said Wednesday. “We’re very inexperienced right now, losing so much from last year.
“(It) should be a fun night though. I’m sure they’ll be jacked up to play us, and so will we.”
Murphy is well-aware of the homecoming taking place Friday.
“Everybody’s going to be excited about coach Keesling coming back because obviously, there’s a storyline there,” Murphy acknowledged. “But there’s a two conference games out there we need to win. (Starting 4-0 in HHC) would be real big.”
Greenfield-Central 5, Roncalli 0
SCORE BY INNINGS R H E
RC (0-1) 000 000 0 — 0 4 2
GC (3-1) 201 011 X — 5 9 1
Two or more hits: Milto (RC); Jackson, Irving (GC). 2B: Irving, Kissee (GC). SAC Bunt: Koontz (RC). SB: Riddle, Shutlee, Franklin (RC); Jackson (GC).
W: Adams. L: Schnell.