INDIANAPOLIS — Five of New Palestine’s seven seniors saw action during the Dragons’ last sectional championship in 2012 and the subsequent Class 4A semistate run.
All five played major roles in NP’s 7-5 victory over Brebeuf Jesuit Tuesday at Chatard in the 3A Sectional 26 title game, including Connor Swain – who wears No. 15 for the red and white – putting the finishing touch on the program’s 15th sectional crown.
Last season, Swain, Nick Butcher, Cameron and Steven Clark and Evan Vance were juniors when the Dragons fell 7-4 to Franklin Central in the Sectional 13 quarterfinals, meaning the program had failed to advance to a sectional title game for the first time since 2007.
“Knowing that this is our last go-around makes it more meaningful than when we were sophomores. It’s real fun to know that we all contributed to the team,” said Butcher, who reached base three times, scored two runs and added a sacrifice fly out of the leadoff spot Tuesday. “Back when I was a sophomore, I was just fielding; I wasn’t hitting. To know that all of us are contributing, that’s real nice.”
NP (21-9) and Brebeuf (22-7) were forced to complete the Sectional 26 championship game Tuesday after inclement weather forced a suspension of play Monday in the bottom of the fourth inning with the Dragons leading 4-3.
NP picked up three additional runs to go up 7-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh Tuesday.
Vance, who took over on the mound for Dragon starter Cameron Clark in the top of the fifth, got the first Brave batter to fly out. But, Brebeuf notched a single, a triple and a single to plate a pair of runners. Swain was summoned from right field to finish off the game.
After a pop-up and a single, the Braves had runners at first and second with two out and the go-ahead run, Eric Petruzzi, at the plate.
Petruzzi eventually chopped the ball to Swain’s right. The right-hander leapt off the mound, bare-handed the ball and flung a no-look throw to Logan Gilvin, who was seeing his first varsity time at first base. Swain’s throw was high, but Gilvin kept his foot on the bag for the final out.
The NP dugout flooded onto the field and formed a dog pile on the mound. Swain circled around to third base before receiving a bear hug from his coach, Shawn Lyons.
“Connor made an amazing play,” said Lyons, who won his second sectional title in his third season as coach. “He turned and threw it blindly, and our first baseman – who hadn’t played first base for us all year – made a nice stretch.”
Lyons also noted the spirit of the Braves, who were denied their seventh straight sectional championship and what would have been the 13th sectional trophy for a program two years removed from a 3A state-runner up finish.
“In tournament play, the toughest outs to get are the last three,” Lyons said. “To Brebeuf’s credit, they just wouldn’t die. We made the first out and were feeling pretty good, and they just kept pecking away.”
When play resumed Tuesday, Butcher was on second and Cameron Clark was on first with nobody out. The Dragons would go on to get RBI singles by Steven Clark and Gilvin in the frame to plate Butcher and Cameron Clark, and they led 6-3 after four frames.
Butcher’s sacrifice fly pushed NP’s lead to 7-3 after five innings, but the Dragons ran themselves into a double play to end the inning with the bases loaded.
Vance allowed just one base runner in the fifth and sixth innings after succeeding Clark (3-1), who yielded three runs on four hits in four innings. The righty struck out five and walked one. After giving up three runs and facing seven batters in the first, Clark settled down and allowed just two base runners in his final three frames of work.
New Palestine moves on to Saturday’s Crawfordsville Regional and faces No. 2 Lebanon (21-3) at 11 a.m. in a semifinal contest. The second semifinal features Owen Valley Sectional winner Edgewood (22-6) against Danville Sectional victor Beech Grove (9-11).
The title game is at 8 p.m., with the Crawfordsville Regional champion advancing to a one-game semistate June 14 at either Jasper or Plainfield.
Winners of eight of their last nine contests, the Dragons – who beat Chatard and Guerin Catholic in five-inning quarterfinal and semifinal games to reach the final – are putting together their best stretch of baseball at the right time. In 17 Sectional 26 tournament innings, NP outscored the opposition 28-6.
The Dragons have scored at least seven runs 17 times in 2014. Against Brebeuf, the leadoff batter reached in five of six innings and eight of the nine spots in the lineup were on base at least once.
“It’s nice to be able to have such a great hitting team,” Butcher said. “You can count on anybody in the lineup stepping up at any point in the game.”
As for the pitching, Clark, Swain and Vance were the only three hurlers Lyons needed this weekend.
“Our seniors stepped up,” Lyons said. “Coming into it, they probably didn’t have the year they wanted to have, but as the year progressed, they pitched much better. Cameron Clark, Connor Swain and Evan Vance – we rode them a bit. Their confidence grew. I think the key was they were down in the zone. That’s a tribute to them and their hard work.”
Lyons let his players know that they can’t take their sectional success for granted.
“We said, ‘Hey, fellas, if we win, we have to dog pile.’ You just never know when you’ll get back,” he said. “In baseball, sometimes the best teams don’t always win. It’s difficult to win.”
Notes: The 3A state championship game will be held either June 20 or June 21 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. … New Palestine’s regional titles came in 1994, 2003, 2004, 2010 and 2012. … The Dragons have won their last four regional games. … Justin Anderson and Zach Biddle are NP’s other two seniors. … On Tuesday, Lebanon beat Frankfort 12-4 and Edgewood topped Northview 2-1.
Class 3A Sectional 26 Championship
At Chatard, Tuesday
New Palestine 7, Brebeuf Jesuit 5
SCORE BY INNINGS R H E
BJ (22-7) 300 000 2 — 5 7 1
NP (21-9) 103 210 X — 7 11 3
WP: C. Clark (3-1). LP: Powell. SV: Swain (1).
BJ: C. Farren 2-4, 3B, RBI, 2 R; Iffert RBI 1B; Powell RBI 1B, SB; M. Farren RBI 1B.
NP: Butcher 1-1, 2 R, 2B, Sac Fly, 2 HBP; C. Clark 4 IP, 5 K, 3 R, W; S. Clark 2-4, SB, Sac Bunt; Gilvin 2-3 3 RBI, Sac Fly; Hall-Manley 2-4, 2B, 2 R, RBI; Hickman 1-2, RBI, BB.
Baseball sectional schedule
3A Sectional 26 at Chatard
Wednesday, May 28
Guerin Catholic 17, Marshall 2
Thursday, May 29
New Palestine 10, Chatard 0, 5 inn.
Saturday, May 31
New Palestine 11, Guerin 1, 5 inn.
Brebeuf 15, Herron 0, 5 inn.
Tuesday, June 3
New Palestine 7, Brebeuf 5
Advancement: New Palestine (21-9) vs. Lebanon (21-3) in Crawfordsville Regional semifinal, Saturday, 11 a.m.
4A Sectional 9 at Greenfield-Central
Championship, Tuesday, June 3
New Castle 12, Richmond 10
Advancement: New Castle (18-10) vs. Terre Haute North (22-7) in Avon Regional semifinal, Saturday, 10 a.m.
2A Sectional 41 at Centerville
Championship, Tuesday, June 3
Knightstown 3, Hagerstown 1
Advancement: Knightstown (22-7) vs Covenant Christian (12-15) in Park Tudor Regional semifinal, Saturday, 11 a.m.