Hitting, pitching, defense power Cougars to win over rival Dragons

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Greenfield-Central’s Jaden Markus delivers on the mound against New Palestine on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

NEW PALESTINE — The Greenfield-Central Cougars needed a spark offensively, and senior Joey Roland answered the call.

Riding a four-game losing streak prior to Tuesday night’s two-game Hoosier Heritage Conference series opener with rival New Palestine, the Cougars caught fire at the plate behind Roland’s grand slam in the top of the first inning and put on a hitting clinic the rest of the way to win big, 17-7.

Greenfield-Central (5-7, 3-4 HHC) posted 13 hits overall and drew 10 walks to get back into the win column, as the pitching did just enough and the defense stymied the host Dragons (6-5, 4-3 HHC), which had won two of their last three.

Roland, the Cougars’ five-hole hitter, and clean-up slugger Connor Sims, a junior, finished the game a combined 4-for-8 with nine RBI, including two of the team’s three extra-base hits.

“We had a lot of people come through in key situations,” Greenfield-Central head coach Mark Vail said. “That’s what we’ve talked about. That’s what we’ve been missing. We’ve been getting people on, but we just hadn’t been getting hits. Tonight, we got a bunch of them, so it was really good to see.”

In their previous six HHC games, the Cougars came up short in four one-run games against New Castle and Yorktown. That wasn’t the case against the Dragons, who were forced to use five pitchers through seven innings in an attempt to quiet the Cougars’ bats.

Greenfield-Central loaded the bases eight times and capitalized with 10 RBI. New Palestine faced six bases-loaded situations, but the Dragons could only drive in three runs, which proved the difference in the series opener.

“We just didn’t get a big hit, but our pitching didn’t hold us in enough to where we could. We got back in it, and then a couple of errors and a couple of walks hurt us. When we had to score nine or 10, you have to have a big hit, but that’s the first time this year we kind of haven’t pitched real well on the mound,” New Palestine head coach Shawn Lyons said. “We’re 6-4 and in 10 of those games we were leading in all 10. Today, we didn’t pitch the way we should have and didn’t play well defensively.”

The Dragons were charged with five fielding errors. The first one unfolded in the game’s initial at-bat with G-C junior leadoff hitter Grant Shepherd reaching base on an infield miscue. Shepherd reached base six times: twice on errors, twice via walks and twice with singles. His last hit drove in the Cougars’ final run in the top of the seventh.

“We’ve been close in all of our conference games. We lost something around four one-run games because we couldn’t get the extra hit. Tonight, we got the hit when we needed to,” Vail said.

Roland made it 4-0 before the bottom half of the first with a grand slam, marking his first home run of the season, which sailed over the right-field fence with one out.

“It really started us off right there and really carried the momentum for the rest of the game,” Roland said. “It being our rival and New Pal and all, it’s still just a conference game, but it helps. Anything helps.”

Roland later drove in a run in the top of the fourth with a sacrifice fly to deep center field and added a fielder’s choice RBI in the fifth. Sims finished 3-for-4 with back-to-back singles in the first and third before driving in a pair of runs with a one-out double in the top of the fourth. His final RBI came on a bases-loaded walk in the fifth.

Greenfield-Central drove in runs in six of its eight bases-loaded scenarios, including two in the top of the fourth and three in the fifth.

“Those two had been struggling a little bit lately, so it was good to see them get back on it,” Vail remarked on Sims and Roland. “That will help us a lot, if they can get back on it. I was really please with how we were at the plate today, and everything else fell into place.”

The Dragons rallied back with a pair of two-run innings in the bottom of the first and third to tie the game 4-4, but Greenfield-Central’s six-run fourth and five-run fifth put them in control.

A.J. Oden finished 0-for-2, but the Cougars’ three-hole hitter worked three walks in his next three at-bats, recording two RBI with the bases loaded.

Andrew Zellers, who started the game, finished with an RBI, while Jaden McGee went 3-for-4 with two RBI. Jaden Markus was 3-for-4 with an RBI triple and a fielder’s choice RBI.

Markus pitched in relief and went five innings with four hits surrendered, eight strikeouts and six walks to earn the win. Zellers lasted two innings to start with three strikeouts and five walks. The Dragons chased Zellers after tying the game in the third.

From there, the Cougars remained patient, striking out just twice against New Palestine’s bullpen and starter Caleb Davis, who absorbed the loss after going 3.1 innings with six hit allowed and three walks.

“It’s a nice boost of confidence for the next few games,” Sims said. “That’s always good. It’s huge for any game (to get up early). It doesn’t really matter who you’re playing. Starting off early is the best thing you can do.”

Davis drove in two runs with bases-loaded walks. Blaine Nunnally, in his return from injury, had two RBI for the Dragons, while RBI were also credited to Zayden Stiller and Luke Legault (2-for-2 with two walks).

“Today just wasn’t our day on the mound, and when you face pretty good pitching like Greenfield has, you’ve got to keep us in the ball game and hope that something happens hitting wise,” Lyons said.

The Cougars host the series finale today with Sims, the team’s ace, set to start. Sims carries a 0.69 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 20.1 innings pitched this season.

The Dragons will showcase their ace, Maddox Manes, who had three of his team’s 11 drawn walks at the plate on Tuesday. Manes is 2-1 on the season with a 3.27 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 15.0 innings pitched.

“Hopefully, tomorrow we’ll see. This is the first time they’ve been kicked this year, so we’ll see if they can get back and play New Palestine baseball. You’re as good as your next day pitcher, so we’re hoping Manes will be on it. We’re facing a really good pitcher tomorrow in Sims, so we have to play a lot better than we did tonight,” Lyons said.

Greenfield-Central 17, New Palestine 7

Greenfield-Central (5-7, 3-4);400;650;2; —;17;13;1

New Palestine (6-5, 4-3);202;120;0; —;7;6;5

HR: Joey Roland (GC). 3B: Jaden Markus (GC). 2B: Connor Sims (GC).

WP: Jaden Markus (5.0 IP, 4 H, 6 BB, HB, 8 K). LP: Caleb Davis (3.1 IP, 6 H, 3 BB).