MOORESVILLE — Call it a college prep course for recent graduates.
New Palestine offered a class of Baseball 101 at the Mooresville Regional at Pioneer Field Saturday.
Stealing bases, sacrifice hits, good pitching and defense, pinch-hitting and timely hitting were all covered in a two-hour session culminating in the Dragons first regional baseball championship since 2014.
New Palestine defeated No. 4 Indianapolis Cathedral 4-2, avenging a loss in last season’s regional final, to move on to the Plainfield Semi-State.
The Dragons will take on No. 9 Castle at 11 a.m. Saturday in the first of two semifinal games. Brownsburg and No. 1 Center Grove will follow at 2 p.m. The semi-state championship game is scheduled for 8 p.m., with the winner earning a spot in the Class 4A state championship game.
“We’re trying to get ’em over get ’em in,” New Palestine coach Shawn Lyons said. “We’re trying to put as much pressure on the defense. With the exception of one or two guys, we’re not blessed with a lot of power. We’ve got singles guys, so if you get them on second base you can get them in.”
All four Dragon runs were manufactured by either stolen bases or sacrifice hits, sometimes both.
A hit batsmen (Adam Rickey), stolen base (Rickey), passed ball, walk (Ben Hirschy), sacrifice bunt (Michael Thorpe) and sacrifice fly (Wyatt Matheis) plated New Pal’s initial run. It happened in the second inning after the Irish had taken a 1-0 lead in the first.
It was a preview of what was to come.
With the score tied 2-2 in the fifth, Matheis led off with a walk. Courtesy runner Brayden Marrow went to second on a single from Ben Morwick.
Morwick had squared to bunt, but with the infield in too close, he changed plans and slapped one through to centerfield to put runners on first and second. Nic Deering nearly pulled off the same slap hit, but Cathedral first baseman Tommy Davey made a nice play on the sharply hit grounder to retire Deering. It moved Marrow to third and Morwick to second.
New Palestine RBI-leader Wes Stiller was up next. He hit a fly ball to shallow centerfield that was caught by shortstop David Ayers. Marrow tagged up and, with the shortstop having to turn and set his feet before throwing, sprinted home. The throw was a little off line and Marrow slid home safely with the go-ahead run.
“I knew the situation, tie game, and knew where we were in the lineup,” Marrow said. “Wes has been hitting the ball real well. I saw the shallow fly and I thought the centerfielder might be getting it so I probably wasn’t going to go. When I saw the shortstop call him off and he was back-pedaling the whole time. I was like, I’m fast enough. I can get there.
“I was tagging and as I took off, I heard coach Lyons say, ‘Go!’ That’s when I knew I was going 100 percent. I thought I was going to go, but he gave me the official ‘Go.’ I just went. I saw the throw beat me a little bit, but the catcher was behind the line so I went inside and got the inside part of the bag.”
“We’re coached that way because we’ve watched the way they catch the baseball,” Lyons added on Marrow’s sprint to the plate. “(The shortstop) wasn’t going forward when he caught it. It’s a green light. He was going backwards a little bit. I think it’d been tougher for us to score if the centerfielder would have caught it, but the shortstop took a step back when he caught it. That’s all he needed and Brayden did a great job of sliding. He didn’t play defense. He didn’t hit, but on the base paths, that’s one of the biggest plays of the game.”
That’s where the Dragons won it, aggressiveness on the base paths.
Rickey scored New Palestine’s first two runs. Both were set up by his ability to steal a base.
He scored the team’s first run after being hit by pitch. He stole second after getting a great jump on Cathedral left-handed pitcher Eli Bennett.
In the fourth, trailing 2-1, Rickey had a two-out single, the Dragons first hit of the game, to left field. Again, he got a great jump on the left-hander and stole second base. Ben Hirschy followed with an RBI-single to left field.
Rickey made stealing second base on a left-hander look easy.
“We scouted him all week. We knew what his move was,” Rickey said. “He didn’t like throwing over that much. We studied his set move and took advantage of it. We weren’t worried about him throwing over. He didn’t make a move over in his last game at all so we stole on him.”
The Dragons had just five hits, two each in the fourth and sixth and one in the fifth, all singles. They stole two bases and had four sacrifice hits.
“We play a lot of small ball and we have a lot of speed,” Marrow added. “We’re going to use it to the best of our capabilities. We had the timing down with the pitcher all day. We were getting great jumps. Their catcher (J.T. Stiner) has a hose, but we were getting great jumps. He had no chance. We were just getting bag after bag, getting guys in scoring positions. Guys were doing their jobs, short flyballs, deep flyballs, ground balls, scoring runs, what you have to do to win.”
On the other side, senior pitcher Blaine Nunnally backed up his one-hit, 13-strikeout performance in the sectional title game played earlier in the week with another stellar performance on the mound.
He retired 14 of the last 15 faced and gave up only four hits, all to the first three hitters in the Cathedral lineup. Three came consecutively in the third inning, but he got out of trouble by only giving up one run.
He fanned 10, six looking. There were no errors on balls put in play. The only New Pal miscue was a Nunnally errant pick-off throw that helped lead to Cathedral’s first-inning run.
“Our defense behind me (Saturday) was tremendous, especially the outfield, tracking balls, making the routine plays,” Nunnally said. “I got a couple myself, my (strikeout) numbers weren’t up. I trust my defense a lot. I know if I throw it over the plate my guys are going to make plays out there.
“This regional means so much. It’s just the seventh in the history of New Pal baseball. Hopefully we can get a semi-state (this) week.”
New Palestine picked up an insurance run in the sixth.
Jacob Morris led off with a single to right-center. Rickey executed a sacrifice bunt to move Morris to second. Sophomore Jackson Kamp came off the bench as a pinch-hitter and singled to right field to score Morris.
A year ago, Cathedral beat New Palestine in the regional championship game 11-7.
New Palestine beat Cathedral 11-2 in extra innings during the regular season. The Dragons scored nine runs in the eighth. That was a big win, but not as big as ending Cathedral’s season, like the Irish had done to them in 2022.
“I think everybody was laser-focused,” Stiller said. “We knew it was going to be a big game and a different Cathedral team from the last time we played them. We were trying to win every inning whether that’s one (run), two or three. We were trying to find the holes, get runners on.
“(Playing Cathedral) added to the competitiveness because of last year getting knocked out by them in a heartbreak way. It definitely feels good to get a win over them this year.”
Along with being the first regional title in nine years, it was the seventh overall. New Palestine is looking to win its first semi-state since 2004, when it went on to win the Class 3A state title.
New Palestine 4, Cathedral 2
Blaine Nunnally and Wyatt Matheis. Eli Bennett, Jackson Reeves (6) and J.T. Stiner. 2B: C – Stiner. WP: Nunnally (7-1). LP: Bennett (6-2).
IHSAA Class 4A Baseball Tournament
Saturday, June 10
At LaPorte (Schreiber Field)
Homestead (19-9) vs. Hamilton Southeastern (19-14), 10:30 a.m. CT
Penn (19-8) vs. Lake Central (27-4), 1 p.m. CT
Championship, 7 p.m. CT
New Palestine (23-9) vs. Castle (24-6), 11 a.m.
Brownsburg (16-12) vs. Center Grove (27-3), 2 p.m.
Championship, 8 p.m.