Dragons defeat Marauders 5-1 to begin HHC series

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FORTVILLE — In recent years, Mt. Vernon has had the upper hand in Hoosier Heritage Conference matchups against New Palestine.

The Marauders swept last season’s conference series and had won five of the last six regular-season matchups between the two Hancock County teams.

But the Dragons had the upperhand when it mattered most last year, defeating the Marauders 2-0 in the sectional championship.

Now a season later, the Dragons have built off of that win, defeating the Marauders 5-1 Tuesday night on the road at Mt. Vernon.

“It’s nice to get a win, but we have to play again (Wednesday), and they’re a very good team,” New Palestine head coach Shawn Lyons said. “We know they’re not at full strength and they’re only going to get better when they get healthier.”

With the team’s respective aces and two of the best pitchers in the conference — Mt. Vernon’s Cam Sullivan and New Palestine’s Michael Thorpe — on the mound, Tuesday’s game was an expected pitcher’s duel.

At the departure of MV’s Sullivan after the fifth inning, the game was 2-1 in favor of the Dragons.

Thorpe threw another HHC gem. After throwing a five-inning complete game shutout against Yorktown last week, he followed that up by throwing six innings and allowing one run. He struck out 10 and allowed only four hits.

“Thorpe did a great job. I thought he mixed it up well, pitched with a lot of confidence, and kept us off balance all night,” Mt. Vernon head coach Brad King said. “The ones we did hit just seemed to find a glove.”

Sullivan was just as good for Mt. Vernon. Over five innings of work, he allowed one earned run, three hits, and struck out six.

“I think it’s a big win because Cameron Sullivan is one of, if not the best pitcher in the state. It’s always a challenge to beat him,” Lyons said. “You know it’s going to be a dog fight, and you have to stay in the game because if you give up more than two or three runs it’s going to be tough.”

But one name in the New Palestine lineup had his number — Adam Rickey.

After striking out to open up the game, the Dragons leadoff hitter bounced back with RBI hits in the third and fifth innings.

After a Mason Meyer home run put the Marauders ahead 1-0 in the second inning, Rickey answered, scoring Wyatt Matheis with an RBI-double in the third.

In the fifth, Rickey put the Dragons ahead with a two-out RBI single. An error on a Gavin Neal ground ball put the leadoff runner on base and a sacrifice bunt and ground out advanced him to third before Rickey’s go-ahead single.

“That’s something we focused on. We put guys on and then we bunt and bunt and bunt,” Lyons said. “Against good pitching, it’s tough to get five or six hits in a row, so you have to create.”

The run was all the Dragons would need behind the pitching of Thorpe and the defense behind him.

In the fifth inning, the Marauders advanced a runner to third base, but with two outs Neal corralled a hard-hit ground ball to third and made the throw across the diamond to end the threat.

“That’s a situation where if that ball gets through one run scores and it shifts things a bit,” King said. “You never know what happens after that. It could’ve given us some momentum, for sure.”

In the sixth, a sliding catch by Rigg Mahurin in centerfield and two more hard groundouts to Neal at third maintained the one-run lead for New Palestine.

“I thought Gavin had a great night, and he had so many rockets hit at him,” Lyons said. “He was pretty tremendous for us over at third base.”

After a pinch-hit leadoff double by Henry Thorpe sparked things, the Dragons added three insurance runs in the seventh. Henry Thorpe came around to score on a wild pitch, Neal scored on a squeeze bunt from Michael Thorpe, and Jacob Morris drove in the last run with a sacrifice fly.

Rickey closed things out on the mound in relief of Thorpe after he allowed the first two batters of the seventh to reach base. He came in and struck out the next three Mt. Vernon hitters.

The two teams will meet again Wednesday for Game 2 of the series at 6 p.m. at New Palestine.

New Palestine 5, Mt. Vernon 1

New Palestine (7-1, 4-1);001;010;3;—;5;7;2

Mt. Vernon (2-4, 1-2);010;000;0;—;1;4;1

Michael Thorpe, Adam Rickey (7) and Jackson Kamp; Cam Sullivan, Andrew Boldt (6) and Grant Payson. 2B: NP – Adam Rickey, Henry Thorpe. HR: MV – Mason Meyer. WP: Michael Thorpe (2-0). LP: Sullivan (0-1).