NEW PALESTINE — So far this spring, the state of Indiana has seen two sophomore pitchers commit to NCAA Division I baseball programs.
New Palestine faced one of the standouts April 23 when Roncalli’s Michael McAvene (Purdue) dominated the Dragons’ lineup in a 15-1 six-inning win. The six-foot-3 right-hander and the Rebels held New Palestine to three hits with 10 strikeouts in a regular season, non-conference affair.
Saturday, New Palestine (21-9) could face the state’s other 2016 Division I commit with much higher stakes. The Dragons will take on No. 2 Lebanon (25-3) in the Crawfordsville Regional semifinals at 2 p.m.
Reid Schaller, the Tigers’ ace with a 90-plus miles per hour fastball, verbally committed to Vanderbilt in March.
“When Roncalli threw McAvene at us, he pretty much dominated us with his fastball, which was disappointing,” New Palestine coach Shawn Lyons said by way of comparison. “But I will tell you that was six weeks ago, and I would like to think that we are a much better team than we were then. And our record indicates that.
“The strength of schedule we played going down the stretch with Brebeuf or Franklin Central and others, it has proved that we’re playing our best baseball right now toward the end of the season.”
The Dragons have won eight of their last nine games, including a 3-0 sectional performance that included wins of 10-1, 11-1 and 7-5. Led by freshman Keegan Watson (.500 average) and seniors Nick Butcher (.462), Connor Swain (.418), Steven Clark (.389) and Cam Clark (.362), the squad’s offense is clicking.
New Palestine’s hot hitters will be tested Saturday, no matter who is on the Lebanon mound.
Fifteenth-year Lebanon head coach Rick Cosgray said Thursday that he wouldn’t decide until after practice today who he would toss against the Dragons and who he would save for a potential championship game against the other semifinal winner.
Beech Grove (9-11) and Edgewood (22-6) will battle at 6 p.m. Saturday evening, with the championship to follow.
Schaller, a 6-3 right-hander and Preseason All-American Second Team selection by Perfect Game USA, is 9-1 on the year with a 1.77 ERA in 55.1 innings. Lebanon senior Jackson Bennett is 8-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 51 innings.
No other Tigers hurler has thrown more than 20 innings this season, and either Schaller or Bennett, a Vincennes commit, will take the hill against the Dragons.