FORTVILLE — Eli Bridenthal dug deep into his vault for some big motivation. Konnor Scheidt delivered the big blow with a go-ahead, towering solo home run in the bottom of the fourth, and the defending Hoosier Heritage Conference champion Mt. Vernon Marauders continued their quest at a repeat title Tuesday with an even bigger 2-1 win over rival New Palestine.
Deadlocked atop the HHC standings with New Castle (5-0, 5-0) entering Tuesday’s two-game series opener against New Palestine (4-3, 3-2), the host Marauders (6-2, 5-0) trailed, 1-0, initially, but they charged back to keep pace in the race.
“It’s huge because obviously New Castle coming into today were 4-0, and we’re 4-0 and New Pal was 3-1. If you can get that first win in any series, then you get that advantage over the other team,” Mt. Vernon head coach Brad King said. “But, as I tell these guys, this win really means nothing unless we come back and get that second win, if our goal is to win this conference.”
The Marauders took care of the first part, rallying back to tie the game, 1-1, in the bottom of the third with a two-out, RBI-single from Gavin Johnston (1-for-3) before Scheidt’s moonshot in the next frame.
Bridenthal, an Xavier commit, earned the win by going six compete innings with two hits allowed and eight strikeouts.
However, it was a battle for the Marauders’ ace, who walked four overall and loaded the bases in the top of the sixth, only to escape with three strikeouts, including a swinging punch out to leave three stranded.
“I kind of lost focus. At the start, I wasn’t really locked in. I walked the first two batters (in the sixth), and then coach came out and talked to me, and I took a deep breath and really locked in,” said Bridenthal, a junior left-hander.
“I have this Google doc of stuff I take personal, kind of like (Michael Jordan), and I was kind of thinking of some of those things. I’m not going to mention what’s on there, but, you know, I was just trying to get that edge mentally.”
Bridenthal improved to 3-0 on the season after turning the page following a trying top of the first, as the Dragons threatened with a runner in scoring position and up 1-0.
New Palestine struck first as Zayden Stiller (1-for-3) drew a one-out walk, and two at-bats later Luke Legault (1-for-2) drove him in with a double.
Wes Stiller nearly made it 3-0 by crushing a potential two-run homer down the first-base line, which sailed just foul. Bridenthal responded by striking out Stiller swinging.
“We missed a home run by about three feet. It was called foul, and it was foul, but we have to make our breaks. We didn’t make them,” New Palestine head coach Shawn Lyons said. “We squared up the fastball, and we hit the ball hard, right at them. There were several atom balls, but we just didn’t get that big, big hit when we needed to, but we were right there.”
The Dragons left eight runners on base, and a slick double play in the top of the third initiated by Bridenthal to Scheidt at first base to catcher Austin Hear killed a potential New Palestine rally with one out.
“To be a leader, you have to lead by example. If you’re doing good, then your teammates will follow you. I kind of struggled my first couple of innings, and we were a little bit down. But, we picked it up, got some energy, got some runs and got the W,” Bridenthal said.
“Baseball is a mental game, and as long as you’re in the right headspace I feel like you can succeed. We’re trying to chase another conference title. We’re trying to go back-to-back.”
New Palestine’s Caleb Davis kept the Marauders quiet for 2.1 innings, pitching a no-hitter until Nick Heitman lined a single to right-center field in the bottom of the third.
Davis allowed five hits, walked one and struck out four, retiring the first seven batters he faced and his final three.
A Gehrig Slunaker walk with one out in the bottom of the third put the Marauders in position to comeback, as Heitman’s single was followed up by a fielder’s choice from Bridenthal and Johnston’s two-out single.
Scheidt gave the Marauders their first and final lead of the game to lead off the bottom half of the fourth.
Facing a 1-0 count, Scheidt clobbered the second pitch he saw, which soared over the right-field wall to put Mt. Vernon ahead 2-1.
“Oh, my gosh. I love Konnor. He’s an animal. He’s on my travel team. We’re good buddies. I was so happy for him,” Bridenthal said. “The wind is blowing out there, and anything is carrying, but that’s what you call light-tower power.”
The home run was Scheidt’s second of the season and second in an HHC game. The junior, clean-up hitter connected for his first during Mt. Vernon’s 8-2 win over league foe Delta on April 5.
“That was a big spot for that. Konnor is in that spot for a reason, and he shows that power in practice a lot. It’s the second time he’s done it this year, but that was a big spot that gave us a little bit of a spark,” King said.
The Marauders need the same from Bridenthal in the top of the sixth after he walked Maddox Manes and Legault to open the frame. Strikeouts against Stiller and Davis came before a walk to Adam Rickey, who subbed in for an injured Blaine Nunnally.
Nunnally suffered a shoulder injury during a pick-off attempt at first base in the top of the second. He exited the game and didn’t return.
With the bases loaded, Bridenthal settled down and posted his eighth strikeout to get out of the jam.
“Eli didn’t have his best stuff by any means today, and he fought through it. That’s what pitching is all about. If you don’t have your best stuff, then you can go out there and compete, and Eli is one of the most competitive players I’ve coached,” King said. “He competed and he ended up getting the win.”
Landon Clark closed out the game in the top of the seventh for the save, allowing two hits, but he picked off the lead runner (Carter Stogsdill, 2-for-4) at first base before surrendering another hit and a deep fly to right field that ended the game.
The HHC series concludes today at New Palestine with a 6 p.m. scheduled first pitch.
“They’re going to be ready to play us tomorrow, and I assume (ace) Manes is going to pitch for them, and he’ll be ready. I think it will be another classic game like this,” King said.
Mt. Vernon 2, New Palestine 1
New Palestine (4-3, 3-2);100;000;0; —;1;4;0
Mt. Vernon (6-2, 5-0);001;100;x; —;2;5;1
HR: Konnor Scheidt (MV). 2B: Luke Legault (NP).
WP: Eli Bridenthal (6.0 IP, 2 H, 4 BB, 8 K). LP: Caleb Davis (6.0 IP, 5H, BB, 4 K). SV: Landon Clark (1.0 IP, 2 H)