By ANDREW SMITH
NEW PALESTINE — The minutes after the game lingered on for New Palestine’s 11 baseball seniors, all exchanging hugs with each other and their coaches, none wanting to take the jersey off for one last time.
A tremendous run — 18 wins in 19 games to clinch a sectional title and a regional finals appearance — had ended a few minutes earlier with a comeback falling short in an 11-7 loss to Cathedral. The Dragons had won their first sectional since 2015 and advanced to the regional final earlier in the day with a 7-2 victory over Brownsburg. But they had difficulty holding Cathedral’s offense at bay in the final.
“This one’s going to take a while to get over,” Dragons coach Shawn Lyons said. “I hurt for myself, but I hurt way more for my kids. If it means something, there should be tears and there were all kinds of tears. I’m proud of them. We were in the final eight. I don’t know what our enrollment is, we’ll compete with anybody.”
It was the final game for a senior class that posted a 24-7 record, doing so after a 6-5 start.
The Dragons went out the way they had all year — battling. Trailing 11-3 in the seventh after the Irish scored two runs on a flyball that appeared to trickle off a glove in foul territory was ruled fair — the Dragons staged a rally, with Ben Morwick leading off with a single. Two hit batters loaded the bases and senior Luke Legault blasted a bases-clearing triple to the gap. Two two-out errors brought home another run and brought the tying run into the on-deck circle, but a flyout ended the four-run rally.
“We played good baseball. Once we knew what we were, we took off,” Lyons said. “Tonight, our pitching wasn’t what it had been all year and that hurt us, but we said, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re down 11-3. If we lose, let’s lose with class, but we’re going to battle’ and we did.”
Even in falling short, the late rally was a fitting finish for a team that got on a roll and posted New Palestine’s best season in seven years.
“That’s what they’ve done all year. We’ve been down 7-1,” Lyons said. “You could see in their eyes, they were not going to quit. They were going to fight to the very end and represent New Palestine High School baseball to the very best of their ability. They did. The past players who were here today, and there were a lot of them, I’m sure they were very proud of them, because they played the game the right way.”
The Dragons took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the second, as they loaded the bases on two walks and a base hit by Wes Stiller. Eli Bruns delivered a hit up the middle to plate one run and Morwick followed with a two-run single to center to bring home two more.
But Cathedral answered with three runs on a bases-clearing triple in the top of the third and extended it, adding three more in the fourth and two each in the sixth and seventh against four Dragons pitchers. The Irish had 11 hits. Legault was 2-for-4 with two runs and three RBI and Morwick 2-for-4 with a run and two RBI to lead the Dragons’ seven-hit attack.
Earlier in the day, the Dragons used a six-run first inning to beat Brownsburg 7-2 in the semifinal. Carter Stogsdill led the game off with a triple to the rightfield corner and Zayden Stiller followed with a double to the same spot. Four walks and a sacrifice fly brought home two more runs. Morwick then delivered a bases-clearing triple to push the Dragons’ lead to 6-0.
Maddox Manes delivered a strong pitching performance, scattering six hits in a complete-game victory. Stogsdill was 3-for-4 with a triple and a run. Bruns was 3-for-3 with an RBI, helping lead a 12-hit attack. Zayden Stiller was 2-for-3 with an RBI and Blaine Nunnally 2-for-3 with two runs and an RBI.
The sectional championship and regional finalist run had the fingerprints of an 11-player senior class, six of whom started both of Saturday’s games and seven of which have committed to play college baseball.
“You usually don’t keep 11 seniors and not have issues, but they all bought in,” Lyons said. “ It was a joy to come to the ballpark every day to work with them.
“It was a special group and one of my favorites.”