Seeing Red: Dragons bounce back, split HHC series with Cougars

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New Palestine’s Eli Burns makes the out at second against Greenfield-Central’s A.J. Oden on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Luke Legault could have played it safe in the top of the seventh Wednesday night, but the New Palestine senior was thinking more team than me.

A day after rival Greenfield-Central embarrassed the Dragons, 17-7, on their homefield to open the teams’ Hoosier Heritage Conference two-game series, there was no slowing down Legault in the finale.

Instead, the Dragons split the series with grit and aggressiveness on the basepaths to win 7-5 at Greenfield-Central’s Molinder Field.

The Dragons’ all-out effort at redemption included Legault, who put his left hamstring injury on the backburner to drive in the game’s final run as a pinch-hitter with the bases-loaded and New Palestine up 6-5.

Legault swung at a 1-1 offering with two outs in the seventh and smashed the ball into the ground before beating out the throw to first base to give the Dragons some much needed insurance.

Once he cleared first base, he collapsed. He later limped off the field to his teammates cheering on his determination while a pinch runner replaced him.

“That was probably the worst thing that could have happened, but we had to get an extra insurance run there,” Legault said. “I just dealt with the pain of running and it cramped up on me passing first base, but it was more for the team than anything else.”

The mission was clear for New Palestine hours before the series finale began.

Turn the page and play New Palestine baseball.

Leadoff hitter Carter Stogsdill echoed the team’s focus by taking the game’s first pitch to the the outfield for a single to spark a four-run first inning.

“We were disappointed in how we played (yesterday). They kind of kicked it to us and showed us up. Our kids saw that, and I made them watch it,” New Palestine head coach Shawn Lyons said. “I told them, ‘Let’s just go, play the game the right way, the New Pal way and put pressure on them.’”

The game plan was speed and disruption. The Dragons (7-5, 5-3 HHC) achieved both in the top of the first, utilizing Stogsdill single and his two stolen bases to wreak havoc.

The Dragons recorded four of their eight total stolen bases in the first frame and plated all four runs on wild pitches and two errors to counter Cougars’ ace Conner Sims, who carried a 0.69 ERA prior to the game.

“We were facing a really good pitcher. Mr. Sims is outstanding, and we thought, alright, if we get on base, we’re going to steal, and we stole second base and third base. We put pressure on him, and our kids bought into that. And, we got a big hit from Wes Stiller later in the fifth with two outs and two strikes,” Lyons said. “I’m just proud of them for getting their (tail) kicked last night and 24 hours later coming out and playing pretty good baseball.”

Sims lasted five innings, struck out nine and allowed four hits, but the Dragons drew four walks, scored five earned runs and ramp up his pitch count.

The hard-throwing G-C right-hander retired four straight via strikeout through the second and third innings and posted two three-up, three-down frames with punch outs.

In between, the Dragons recorded six total hits and grabbed a 6-0 lead after the top of the fifth.

“We came in early today and put the (pitching) machine up to a high velocity. Carter hit the first pitch of the for a single to left center,” Lyons said. “Even when we struck out, it was a 3-2 count and we fouled a couple off. We got this pitch count up pretty high. I think it was 50-some pitches in two innings. That’s what we wanted to do because he’s an outstanding pitcher with a bright future.”

Maddox Manes initiated the Dragons’ two-run top of the fifth, reaching base with a single after Ben Morwick scored on a passed ball to make it 5-0. Wes Stiller’s RBI single drove in Manes, who stole second base before the hit.

“We were just ready to play and prove ourselves again. We had a bad game last night, so we wanted to bounce back,” Manes said. “We love hitting faster pitchers. We like the challenge, and it’s all about making the pitcher uncomfortable on the mound.”

Manes was in cruise control through the first four of his five innings pitched. The Dragons’ ace struck out nine and walked two while limiting the Cougars to three hits until the bottom of the fifth.

Greenfield-Central (5-8, 3-5 HHC) batted around the order and drove in five runs on three hits in the fifth to cut the deficit behind a two-run RBI double from Sims and an two-run RBI single by Joey Roland.

The duo finished 4-for-8 with a combined nine RBI on Tuesday and the tandem kept it going the next day. They went 3-for-8 with four RBI. Sims was 2-for-4. A.J. Oden and Grant Shepherd (2-for-3) each had doubles in the game.

“The late energy picked up, and that’s what we like,” Sims said. “They just won the dogfight.”

The Cougars had two bases-loaded situations in the fifth and plated two runs. A Shepherd RBI single with two runners in scoring position broke up Manes’ shut-out bid.

Stogsdill closed out the game for the Dragons with three strikeouts, two hits allowed and one walk over two innings despite three runners in scoring position.

“It seemed like we showed up to watch the game and they showed up to play it. After we got through the first half inning, we were fine,” G-C head coach Mark Vail said. “I was really pleased with how we approached things the rest of the game. We battled at the plate and kept hammering away. We finally got the hits we needed and got going and had our chances to win. That’s all you can ask for.”

For the Dragons, who are battling a few in-season injuries, their win was a statement for themselves.

“Luke’s competitive attitude, he saw where it was and he knew he had to go,” Lyons said. “Tonight, their energy was good. Their focus was good. Sometimes with high school kids when you get kicked like they did, you don’t always get that. But, this is a good group of kids and we’ve had some bad breaks injury-wise, but don’t judge us until we’re done. We’re not done yet.”

New Palestine 7, Greenfield-Central 5

New Palestine (7-5, 5-3);400;020;1;—;7;6;2

Greenfield-Central (5-8, 3-5);000;050;0;—;5;8;2

2B: A.J. Oden, Grant Shepherd, Conner Sims (GC).

WP: Maddox Manes (5.0 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 9 K). LP: Connor Sims (5.0 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 9 K). SV: Carter Stogsdill (2.0 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 3 K).