WHITELAND — The biggest hit of New Palestine’s season almost didn’t happen. In the top of the seventh inning with no outs recorded, Jacob Barnes stepped into the batter’s box with his team trailing 3-2. Alex Rejer and Brian Page had singled and walked, respectively, to begin the frame and most assumed NP head coach Shawn Lyons was going to ask Barnes to bunt the runners over.
A break in the action occurred, so Barnes walked to meet Lyons (also the third-base coach) halfway down the third base line. The conversation went like this:
Lyons: “I’m going to give you one pitch then I might have you lay one down.”
Barnes: “Coach, I’m 2-for-3. I’ll hit this stuff.”
Lyons: “All right, we won’t bunt you then.”
Barnes actually sold himself short — he was 3-for-3 to that point against Greenwood starter Tylor Martin. He notched an RBI single in the first and doubled in the third and fifth innings. But the trust between the two was evident, mostly because Lyons knew Barnes would wait for his pitch.
The senior catcher/designated hitter fell behind in the count 1-2, but drew another ball and fouled off two pitches, biding his time to wait for the pitch he’d hit off Martin all day: the hanging curveball.
Barnes finally got one on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, turning on Martin’s breaking ball and sending it soaring into the night, easily clearing the left-field fence.
“I was just trying to foul off the fastballs until I got another curveball again,” explained Barnes, a four year starter, “and I did.”
Barnes’ three-run blast ended up being the difference in the Dragons’ 6-3 win over the Woodmen, a victory that gave the program its 14th sectional title and its first in Class 4A.
“He swung at two bad pitches and I thought, ‘Oh no,’” said Lyons, in his first season as head coach. “Then he got a pitch to hit and he did tonight what he’s done for us the last four, five weeks.”
Back on May 8, Barnes slugged four home runs and drove in eight runs in one day against Delta. In the first game, a suspended contest that was picked up in the fourth inning with NP trailing 4-2, Barnes’ two-run dinger in the seventh leveled the game at five. The Dragons won that game 6-5. In the nightcap, Barnes belted a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the seventh to break a 4-4 tie for his third home run and sixth RBI of that particular competition.
All season long, NP has shown a flair for the dramatic. Ten of the team’s 23 wins have been of the come-from-behind variety. On Saturday, thanks to Barnes’ home run and Nick Ulrey’s RBI single, the Dragons have now outscored their opponents 28-8 in the seventh inning in 2012.
“All the coaches talk about mental toughness and you know, it sounds like the right thing to say, but with these guys we saw how talented they were,” said Lyons, formerly the team’s longtime pitching coach. “They just had to develop it throughout the year. They got tougher and tougher mentally.”
Clark employs surplus of sectional experience to earn win
Reid Clark estimates he’s now been a part of seven sectional championships during his time at New Palestine High School; three for tennis and two each for basketball and baseball.
He really had to dig deep into his reserves to get lucky No. 7.
NP’s big right-hander went all seven innings against Greenwood, yielding 10 hits and three earned runs. The damage could have been much worse, though. Clark walked six batters, which assisted the Woodmen in advancing a runner to second base in each frame, including placing a runner at third base in all but one inning.
Clark, who Lyons said threw somewhere in the neighborhood of 130 pitches, helped himself by striking out 10 batters, including fanning a Woodmen hitter with runners in scoring position to end the third, fifth and sixth innings.
“Tip of the cap to Reid, he did not have a stress-free inning,” Lyons offered. “That’s a testament to Reid, he battled through it.”
Lyons approached Clark in one of the latter innings to ask how he was feeling.
“(Reid) goes, ‘Coach I want to get out there.’ I say, ‘We either go with you or the guy (Brian Page) that threw 75 (pitches) this morning,’” Lyons explained. “And he said, ‘Nope, I’ll get it done.’”
The 6-4 Clark said he found the necessary energy to finish the game after Barnes’ round-tripper. In the bottom of the seventh, Greenwood had runners at first and second and brought the tying run to the plate with one out. But the postseason-savvy Clark calmly fanned Martin on three pitches, freezing the Woodmen’s starter with a late-breaking curveball. He then got leadoff man Connor Morris to pop up to third to seal the game.
“I was battling through it. My arm wasn’t really hurting me, I just didn’t have my best stuff,” said Clark, who plans to play tennis at Hanover College. “I just kept throwing it in there and when Jacob hit that home run, that really gave more power and I felt a lot better.”
Dragons reloaded in 2012 despite heavy losses
Conventional wisdom might have said that 2012 would have been a down season for the New Palestine baseball program.
Five starters had moved on to play collegiate baseball from the 2011 team that went 24-4 and lost in the sectional finals to Mt. Vernon.
Offense could have been hard to come by, since NP would be without 192 RBIs driven in by the 2011 seniors.
And lastly, the program’s veteran coach, Al Cooper, took the athletic director position at the school.
But instead of counting their woes, the Dragons went to work and the results were all too familiar:
>> The program’s 10th consecutive 20-win season.
>> Another Hoosier Heritage Conference championship, NP’s ninth-straight season with at least a share of the HHC title.
>> The Dragons’ seventh sectional crown since 2000 and the 10th year in a row the team has played in the sectional finals.
“That’s a testament to the depth of the program,” said Cooper, who won 241 games in 10 seasons as coach. “We expect to be here, it doesn’t matter what class we’re in.”
Now the red-and-white will attempt to earn their fifth regional championship. The road begins Saturday at Evansville Bosse Field against Castle (18-12). First pitch is scheduled for approximately 2:30 p.m.
With a win, NP (23-6) would play later on Saturday night (8 p.m.) for a semistate birth. Not too bad for a squad that supposedly wasn’t good enough.
“Last year after we lost (the sectional title game), we started summer ball the day after,” Clark explained. “We were working for this right here. We’ve been working all through winter and everything.
“We all came together. We’ve played well and we battled through this.”
4A Sectional 13 Championship
New Palestine 6, Greenwood 3
SCORE BY INNINGS R H E
NP (23-6) 110 000 4 — 6 12 0
GW (21-7) 101 001 0 — 3 10 1
Two or more hits: Barnes, Ochs (NP); Beidelman, Martin (GW). 2B: Ochs, Barnes 2 (NP); Martin, Monroe (GW). HR: Barnes (NP). SAC: Page (NP), Beidelman, Monroe (GW). SAC FLY: Evans (NP). SB: Barnes (NP); Krupa, Beidelman (GW).
WP: R. Clark (6-2). LP: Martin (6-2).