It was the friendly rivalry within the rivalry.
Monday’s Class 4A Sectional 9 baseball championship game between New Palestine and Mt. Vernon was the last time a pair of all-time standouts would meet on the same high school diamond, court or gridiron.
Dragon senior Blaine Nunnally and Marauder senior Eli Bridenthal have been three-sport stars for their schools for four years, earning individual and team accolades throughout their high school careers.
Nunnally threw a one-hitter, struck out 13 and had an RBI in the Dragons 2-0 victory over Mt. Vernon in Monday’s sectional championship game.
It was the third time this season he has helped lead a Dragon team to a sectional title.
A wide receiver, defensive back and special teams stalwart, Nunnally was Hancock County Co-Defensive Player of the Year and a key component to the No. 1 ranked Dragons going undefeated in the regular season and winning a sectional championship. He was a freshman on New Palestine’s 2019 state championship football team.
In basketball, he was a four-year veteran, too, helping lead his team to a sectional title this winter. He earned all-state recognition and was the leading scorer on a team that set a school record for wins in a season and had a school-record winning streak to start the year. A point guard, he became the school’s all-time leader in assists and also is a 1,000-point scorer. The sectional victory was also over the rival Marauders.
The two have gone head-to-head numerous times over the years and long before they reached the high school level.
“It just hasn’t been these four years, it’s been my whole life,” Bridenthal said of competing against Nunnally. “We both always played up years. I was six playing 7U against him. He’s on the Dragons and I’m on the Marauders playing back and forth against each other. I know whenever he’s on the other team it’s going to be a dogfight. Nothing is going to be given. One thing about him, he never really gives up. You can’t relax, especially in a game like this.”
Bridenthal, as a sophomore, was a wide receiver and defensive back on the Marauders 2021 state championship football team, catching a touchdown pass in the team’s 45-14 win over Northridge.
This past football season, he really did everything, and did it well for the Marauders, who had lost a number of key players to graduation from the state title team.
An all-stater as a defensive back, Bridenthal played quarterback, running back and wide receiver on offense, cornerback on defense and handled some punt and kickoff returns. He even punted. He scored touchdowns from just about all those positions, including throwing touchdown passes.
He came off the bench as the sixth-man on back-to-back sectional championship basketball teams as a sophomore and junior, and was the deciding factor, as a junior, in a win over the Dragons. With New Pal up five going into the final quarter, he scored 10 of his 15 points in the final eight minutes to keep a Mt. Vernon winning streak alive.
This past year’s team, as the most experienced player, he helped lead the Marauders to a 17-win season and berth into a sectional championship game against the Dragons.
But like, Nunnally, the diamond is where he shines the brightest.
He committed to Xavier University in Cincinnati after his sophomore season, a year the Marauders reached the Class 4A Final Four.
Going into this season, Indiana Prep Baseball Report had him ranked as the No. 7 player in the state.
Unfortunately for Bridenthal his final season with the Marauders ended early, and before he got a chance to play in the postseason against his rivals and friend.
He suffered a torn lat muscle pitching against the Dragons in a regular-season game in mid-April and had been out of the lineup since.
Nunnally, who will play college baseball at Southwest Tennessee Community College, was glad to beat his rivals to win the sectional title, but he really would have liked to see his friendly rival out on the field, too.
“I’ve got some buddies over there, Bridenthal being one,” Nunnally said. “His season, how it ended, was just terrible. I know we’re rivals, but I feel baseball’s a different sport than basketball and football. Football you’re out there to hit somebody. Basketball is more enclosed. Baseball is such a failure sport. You’re going to fail just as much as the other team. It’s great to beat them (this season), but I feel for those guys.
“I would have loved for (Eli) to have been out there, especially on the mound. I think it would have been a great experience for both of us. If I had to change one thing, that would have been it … He’s a buddy and we train together. Seeing each other succeed throughout (our high school) time has been unbelievable.”
Bridenthal wanted to be out there, too. He and Nunnally have that same competitive fire.
I feel like we are pretty alike,” Bridenthal said. “If you take all of our games that we’ve played against each other it’s probably about 50-50. He got the better of us (Monday). I wish I could have been out there.
“It really kills me. I can kind of show it now, but during the game you have to hide those emotions and support your team. I’ve been looking forward to pitching against him all year. It really hurts, especially losing to your rivals.”
“They are very similar,” Mt. Vernon baseball coach Brad King added. “They play the three sports. They’re not cocky, but they’ve got this belief in themselves that they’re going to go out and they are going to have success and they carry themselves very well. They have bulldog mentalities.”
Bridenthal said he saw that bulldog mentality out of Nunnally in Monday’s championship game.
“After he gave up that run in the first inning, I knew we were in trouble,” Bridenthal said. “The kid’s a gamer, a straight gamer. What I mean by that, he can be down 3-0 in the count and he can come back with three straight strikes. He’s special in any sport that he plays. In the big moments he shows up.
“Honestly, I don’t have fun playing against bad teams. It’s just boring if you’re crushing them. He makes it a lot of fun. These are the games that you love or, if you lose, you hate. They’re fun to compete in and he’s a competitor.”
As successful as Mt. Vernon was this entire baseball season, not having Bridenthal in the latter part really hurt and not just because he’s a talented baseball player.
“You can’t replace a kid like that and all the intangibles he brings,” King said. “It’s awesome to have him batting leadoff and playing short and being our guy on the mound. (After he got hurt) he still shows up to practice, he still talks to the guys. He stands next to me during games and we go over things. He’s a great teammate. I’ve had guys in the past that have got hurt and they fall by the waste side. He’s been involved, stayed active, and is a great kid. He’s going to be successful whatever he does.”
Nunnally and the Dragons will be back at it Saturday in a Class 4A regional tournament game at Mooresville High School. The Dragons will play Indianapolis Cathedral at 11 a.m.
“He’ll be all-conference in all three (sports),” New Palestine baseball coach Shawn Lyons said of Nunnally. “He’s one of the most special kids I’ve been around. I’ve been here since 1998 and I’ve seen a lot of different three-sport athletes. Here’s the bottom line, the moment is never too big for him.”