NEW PALESTINE — A week ago, New Palestine had plenty of questions about its pitching staff.
The Dragons found the answers Friday night.
NP (6-3) swept New Castle 8-6, 9-0 Friday night, getting a combined no-hitter from Evan Vance and Cameron Clark in the second game to cap off a 4-0 week following a tough sweep at the hands of Greenfield-Central April 11. The red and white topped Perry Meridian 9-8 Monday and blanked common Sectional 26 foe Guerin Catholic 3-0 Wednesday.
“We didn’t play well in the two wins we had Monday and Wednesday, (but) we had a great practice last night, probably our best outdoor practice of the year,” NP coach Shawn Lyons said. “The kids worked hard last night and it carried over tonight against an outstanding New Castle team.”
The combined no-no by Vance and Clark was the program’s first no-hitter since Casey Bussell threw one in 2010.
Vance got the start and went 5 and 1/3 innings, allowing two walks and hitting three batters. He struck out seven. Lyons came out to get Vance after an error, a walk and a hit batsman loaded the bases for New Castle in the bottom of the sixth. Cameron Clark came on to fan the next two batters, then worked around a 1-out walk in the seventh.
The Dragon defense aided their mound mates in the effort, especially shortstop Nick Butcher, whose field awareness in the fourth resulted in a 2-6-3 putout instead of an infield single. Butcher also ran down a chopper behind second base for a 6-3 putout to end the game.
Lyons had the big picture in mind when he decided to pull Vance.
“He reached 99 pitches and we felt like…we’ve got big goals in mind this year. To him exceed that many pitches, we said, ‘Hey, let’s bring Cam in. We’ve got to get him figured out in that closing situation,’” Lyons said. “Evan had command of two pitches tonight, and that makes a big difference. We had a good defense behind him.”
In the opener, Andy Edwards got the start and limited the Trojans (3-3) – averaging 9.5 runs coming into Friday – to two runs on six hits. Building off a solid five-inning relief stint last weekend against Greenfield-Central, the lefty walked two and fanned four to earn his first win.
“I thought last week against Greenfield-Central, Andy Edwards pitched really well out of relief. He just carried it on tonight,” Lyons said. “He’s special because he has command of three pitches in the zone. You just can’t sit on one pitch. He shut down a pretty good New Castle squad.”
Justin Anderson relieved Edwards before sophomore Hogan Fulkerson came on for the save.
“We brought in a sophomore tonight – welcome to varsity baseball,” Lyons said of Fulkerson.
Butcher gets help
Butcher played a large role in New Palestine’s semistate team two years ago, manning shortstop down the stretch for a squad that finished 25-7 and a game shy of playing in the 4A state championship.
But despite appearing in 18 games, Butcher recorded only five at-bats all season, as he was DH’d for many times.
Thrust into a bigger role last season as a junior, Butcher responded by hitting .281 with a .353 on-base percentage. He scored 23 runs and swiped a team-best 11 bases.
As a senior, Butcher has continued his progression and is now the unquestioned kick-starter of the Dragon offense.
Entering Friday with a .500 average and .607 on-base percentage, Butcher reached in seven of his nine plate appearances against New Castle – even though he recorded only one hit. He walked four times, was hit by a pitch and used his speed to reach on a fielder’s choice. He scored three runs, stole three bases and generally was a trouble-maker on the base paths.
For example, in the top of the third of Game 2, Butcher walked, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch.
“We really hoped that his hard work in the weight room would pay off and if he keeps the ball on the ground, he’s so fast that creates opportunities there,” Lyons said. “When he gets on base, he’s creates havoc. We have struggled up to this point hitting – except for Nick Butcher. He’s squaring the ball up nicely.”
Butcher received plenty of assistance Friday.
In Game 1, Evan Hickman and Wes McBride, two players hitting .167 and .182, combined to go 4-for-7 with a home run, three RBI and three runs scored. In Game 2, Steven Clark was 3-for-4 with three RBI and a pair of runs scored. Cameron Clark was 3-for-5 with a run. Connor Swain was 2-for-3 with a walk, a HBP, a double and an RBI.
NP finished with 23 hits on the night.
“That was more like New Pal baseball tonight, with the pitching, defense and timely hitting,” Lyons said.
Trojans to be worthy HHC adversary
New Castle had a rough night Friday, but the Trojans should be a squad to be reckoned with when they join the Hoosier Heritage Conference full-time next year. They’re getting a taste of the competition this spring.
In addition to its doubleheader Friday at New Palestine, the 12-time sectional champions have a double dip against Delta plus single games vs. Mt. Vernon, Pendleton Heights and Yorktown upcoming on their schedule.
New Castle has major contributors back from last season’s 22-8 squad, most notably IPFW commit Zak Kellogg and Western Kentucky recruit Grant Malott, who combined for two hits, two walks, two stolen bases and two RBI Friday.
The piece the Trojans probably wish they had is 2013 graduate Trey Ball.
Ball was taken seventh overall by the Boston Red Sox in last June’s draft. Drafted as a pitcher, Ball threw 46 innings for the Trojans last spring, sporting a 6-0 record and striking out 93. The lefty walked 13 and allowed just five earned runs. Ball was also a prolific position player, batting .330 with 10 home runs, 31 RBI and an OPS of 1.300.
But, since the 19-year-old Ball is armed with a mid-90s fastball, he’s sticking to pitching as a pro. Ball has yet to play in any 2014 games, but pitched in five games for the Red Sox’s Gulf Coast league team last summer, recording a 6.43 ERA in seven innings pitched.
After receiving a bye in the 2013 4A Sectional 9 tournament, New Castle was upset 3-2 in eight innings by Connersville in the semifinal round. Ball did not pitch in that game. Greenfield-Central went on to beat Connersville 6-3 in the championship game.
Lyons was impressed with the Trojans’ collection of baseball skill Friday.
“They’ve got a couple Division I players, a few Division IIs, a junior college,” Lyons said. “Talent-wise, they’re as good as we’ve played.”
Notes: New Castle beat Connersville 9-2 Thursday. … New Palestine’s 2003 3A state runner-up and 2004 state champion teams were honored in between games.
New Palestine 8, New Castle 6
SCORE BY INNINGS R H E
NC 001 010 4 — 6 9 0
NP 010 412 X — 8 11 2
WP: Edwards (1-0). LP: Malott (0-2). SV: Fulkerson (1).
NC: Malott 1-3, 2 RBI, R, SB; Kellogg 1-3, BB, R; Smith 1-4, RBI, R.
NP: Hickman 2-4, HR, 2 R; Butcher 0-1, 2 BB, HBP, R, SB; Vance 3B, RBI, R; McBride 2-3, 2 RBI; S. Clark 2-4, RBI, R; Anderson 1-3, 2B, R.
New Palestine 9, New Castle 0
SCORE BY INNINGS R H E
NP (6-3) 004 003 2 — 9 12 1
NC (3-3) 000 000 0 — 0 0 3
WP: Vance (2-1). LP: Smith (0-1).
NP: Butcher 1-2, 2 BB, 2 R, 2 SB; Biddle 1-1, HBP, BB, RBI; Swain; 2-3 HBP, BB, 2B, RBI, 2 R: S. Clark 3-4, 3 RBI, 2 R; C. Clark 3-5, R.
NC: Malott: BB, HBP, SB.