NEW PALESTINE — With 16 sectional titles in its history overall and two state championship game appearances, New Palestine baseball is a way of life.
Or as Dragons head coach Shawn Lyons describes it, there’s the wrong way and the New Pal way.
Against Cathedral on Friday night, the host Dragons decided to focus on the latter, and they kept their winning streak alive.
Sophomore pitcher Henry Thorpe rebounded quickly from a rough top of the first to toss a gem in only his second-career varsity start, while seniors Maddox Manes and Carter Stogsdill delivered clutch two-out hits to power the Dragons to a 7-4 come-from-behind victory.
The Dragons’ victory marked their ninth consecutive, a run that began on April 27 with a 7-5 win over Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Greenfield-Central on the road.
Since, the Dragons have improved their record to 15-5 and posted three shutouts.
For win No. 9, resolve was required, and the Dragons had plenty.
“I don’t like counting. Nine in a row. We’re playing pretty good baseball, but we’re only going to enjoy this for a half hour more, then we have to be back here tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock for a doubleheader,” Lyons said. “We’re just trying to figure it out.”
With six games in six days this week, the Dragons have found an answer in four contests so far, adding the visiting Fighting Irish to their list of defeateds.
A year ago, the Dragons finished 15-16 overall, and they lost to Cathedral 10-2.
Not this time.
“We took our losses last year, and we knew that. They were young and inexperienced. Some of the hard knocks that we took last year are paying dividends for us this year,” Lyons said. “So, yes, we’re playing the way we’ve been coaching, the New Pal way, and that’s what they did tonight.”
Thorpe was forced to learn on the fly from the first pitch, as the left-hander faced immediate trouble walking three, hitting two batters and loading the bases with Cathedral taking a 2-0 lead.
A swift double-play minimized the damage, and Thorpe’s first of three strikeouts over five innings ended a potential disaster.
“It was really nerve-racking. The first inning obviously didn’t go exactly how I planned, how I wanted it to, but on the offensive side it was good that my guys had my back. It sent a lot of confidence to me,” Thorpe said. “I just had to keep rolling through after that.”
The Dragons’ bats responded with a four-run bottom of the first, sparked by a lead-off double by Stogsdill, who finished 3-for-3 with three runs scored, a walk and two stolen bases.
Stogsdill scored New Palestine’s first run off a wild pitch before Blaine Nunnally (1-for-3) drove in Zayden Stiller (2-for-3) four at-bats later after he reached with a single.
A deep, two-run sacrifice fly to center field by Caleb Davis put the Dragons on top, 4-2, where they stayed the remainder of the game.
“We told (Henry) from the get-go, pitch to contact, we got your back and we’ll play good defense,” Manes said. “There was a lot of confidence put into his head after we scored four in the first after they scored two. He knew we had him.”
Thorpe allowed eight hits, but he didn’t walk another batter through his final four frames. He surrendered five hits between the second and sixth inning, but only two hurt him.
A lead-off triple by Kyruss Gargett in the top of the second led to a Cathedral run with an RBI groundout from Patrick Mazur. In the top of the sixth, a solo home run by Ben Gomez chased Thorpe, but not before he did his job.
Against Pike on April 30, Thorpe went six frames, allowed two hits, walked one and struck out eight to earn his first varsity win.
“He’s going to be really good. He’s a sophomore lefty that has all three pitches and a great demeanor. We know he’s going to be good. He had success against Pike, but this is another step up,” Lyons said. “He was a little nervous, and I told him when I went out there in the first inning, ‘Man, they haven’t knocked you out, so stay with it.’ He got that change-up over and that’s a weapon because they were sitting on his fastball.”
The Dragons chased Irish starter Dylan Haslett after five innings, scoring five runs to widen the gap from 4-2 and 4-3 to 5-3 and later 7-4.
Haslett struck out six, walked two, hit two batters and allowed six hits with five earned runs in the loss.
Manes drove in one of those runs, finishing 2-for-4 with three RBI — both coming in his final two at-bats. Manes opened the game with consecutive strikeouts at the plate and has been contending with a nagging injury.
“He’s not 100 percent. He’s dinged up, and our coaches talked about taking him out, but he said, ‘No, I’m good. I’m good.’ He looked bad in his first two at-bats, and then he got a single there (in the fourth) and a big single in the last inning to give us a little bit more of a cushion,” Lyons said.
Manes connected for two of New Palestine’s four two-out hits, beginning in the bottom of the fourth. Winning the battle against Haslett, Cathedral’s ace, during a seven-pitch at-bat, Manes drove in Stogsdill to give New Palestine a 5-3 lead.
“It’s definitely a battle, a struggle. You get in your own head, especially after two strikeouts. Honestly after that first foul ball (in the fourth), I was feeling a whole lot better,” Manes said.
Manes delivered again in the bottom of the sixth against Gomez, who came in as a reliever, plating two runs with a two-out single to score Stogsdill and Stiller to push lead to 7-4.
“These guys did more for me, then I did for them tonight. Words can’t describe it,” Thorpe said.
The Dragons turned to Stogsdill to close out the Irish, and the right-hander went two frames with two hits allowed and a strikeout for the save. In the top of the sixth, Stogsdill flashed the leather by catching a hard, lined comebacker for a double-play with two runners on base.
The Irish (9-9-2) were sat down 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh by Stogsdill.
“Once we got on a roll (with this streak) we gained a confidence. It kind of became not if we win, but how much are we going to win by,” Maddox said.
It started with Thorpe settling in, and the Dragons staying the course.
“Once he had that change-up, (Henry) was a different pitcher. He grew up a lot tonight,” Lyons said. “That was a tremendous outing against a very good ball club, and he came a hit or two away in the first inning to getting knocked out.”
The Dragons host Connersville for a doubleheader today. Next week, they travel to Indianapolis Scecina on Monday before their final two-game HHC series with New Castle on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Dragons are 9-3 in the HHC and third currently with an outside shot of gaining ground in the standings.
“We have two more tomorrow. Six games in one week at the high school level, and we had three conference games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so we had to go with our big guns,” Lyons said. “It was really nice to come back today against Cathedral’s ace.”
New Palestine 7, Cathedral 4
New Palestine (15-5);400;102;x;—;7;8;0
HR: Ben Gomez (C). 3B: Kyuss Gargett (C). 2B: Gomez, David Ayers (C); Carter Stogsdill (NP).
WP: Henry Thorpe (5.0 IP, 8 H, 3 K, 3 BB, 2 HB, 4 R, 4 ER). LP: Dylan Haslett (5.0 IP, 6 H, 6 K, 2 BB, 2 HB, 5 R, 5 ER). SV: Carter Stogsdill (2.0 IP, 2 H, 1 K).