SENSATIONAL RUN: WESTERN FINISHES SEASON AS IHSAA CLASS 3A BASEBALL STATE RUNNERS-UP

Front Cover - Trophy Presentation

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

INDIANAPOLIS – Entering the 50th Annual IHSAA Class 3A Baseball State Finals at Victory Field in Indianapolis, the Western Panthers had the hottest bats in the state. The Black Attack crossed home plate 36 times over the course of the regional and semi-state rounds of the tournament. But in the finale of the state finals, the Western offense faced an equally good Northview pitcher Braydon Tucker, who held the Panthers to four hits and a single run to earn a 2-1 victory for the schools’ first-ever state title in any sport.

“His rhythm kept us off balance all day, his fast pace on the mound,” said Western head coach Quentin Brown of the Northview sophomore pitcher. “We didn’t really make adjustments at all (except for) a couple of at-bats. We sat fastball pretty much, but his rhythm kind of threw us off. We had a lot of foul balls, we had a lot of good swings where we swung right through it, where we were a hair late, and that’s a testament to his fast pace. He’s a good kid, a good player.”

The Panthers struck first in the top of the second inning. Brodee Lipinski ripped a one-out single followed by a Tyler Burthay walk. With two outs, No. 9 hitter Jacob Douglass singled to left field and Lipinski scored easily for the 1-0 lead.

With the lead, Western senior Dalton Leighty – who was named an Indiana All-Star after the game – continued to dominate from the mound much like he has done all season (9-3, 1.85 ERA). Leighty shut-down the Northview bats through the first four innings. The Knights (25-6) finally caught up to the Western pitcher in the fifth as Luke Lancaster singled, pinch runner Andy Young went to second on a sacrifice bunt, to third on a wild pitch and tied the game on a fielding error off the bat of Jase Glassburn.

Western threatened in the top of the sixth but stranded two runners. Pat Mills led off with a single and Lipinski walked – but the Panthers could not get the runners home.

In the bottom half of the sixth, Dalton Shaw singled but was gunned down by Western catcher Tyler Burthay attempting to steal. With two outs, pinch hitter Alex Reinoehl drew a full-count walk and hustled to third on a Lancaster single. No. 8 hitter Hayden France then became a hero with a bloop-single to shallow right field to score Reinoehl.

“Dalton, he gave another outing like he’s been giving us all year,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, we had that one walk in the sixth that kind of got us. Regardless of that, we’ve rode him all the way here; who’s to say if we don’t have him we are not here anyway – maybe, maybe not; I don’t know. Regardless of what the outcome was, he pitched, he competed, he did everything he needed to. We’re proud of him.”

Tucker (10-1, 1.55 ERA) took the hill for the seventh inning and looked just as strong as he did in the first, recording a fly out and a pair of strike outs to win the game.

For more on Western’s state finals run, check out this week’s edition of the Sports Journal and Kokomo Herald.

Douglas Hockney contributed to this story

VICTORY BOUND: WESTERN WINS BASEBALL SEMI-STATE IN DOMINATING FASHION, HEADED TO STATE FINALS IN INDY

Photo by William Gibson

Photo by William Gibson

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Western High School should consider retiring the No. 9 baseball uniform. Or maybe they should give the number to everyone on the field. For the second time in the last five seasons, the player wearing the No. 9 jersey in the semi-state round of the IHSAA State Tournament has been the hero in sending the Panthers to Victory Field and a shot at the Class 3A state championship.

“It is a testament to these guys’ will to win,” said Western head coach Quentin Brown. “This group is very talented. At the beginning of the year, we had a saying of, ‘501.’ That is the address of Victory Field. We have said 501 all year. And now we are going!”

On a warm Saturday afternoon at Kokomo Municipal Stadium, Western played a nearly perfect game and dominated the Delta Eagles (20-9) by a 15-4 score to claim the Kokomo Semi-State championship. Luke Florek – wearing the No. 9 that Drew Bellus wore in 2012 – led the charge with a three-hit game. Of his five at-bats, it was the second inning that will send the leadoff hitter into Panther lore.

The inning started with a Pat Mills walk, but Delta looked like they would get out of the inning unscathed following a strikeout and ground out. With two outs, Tyler Burthay drew a walk and Cooper O’Neal drilled an 0-2 pitch for an RBI single. Jacob Douglass walked to load the bases, and following a trip to the mound by Delta coach Seth Paul to calm down pitcher Arian Coffey, Florek launched the next pitch over the Municipal Stadium left-field wall for a grand slam.

“We knew Coffey liked to throw the curve ball a lot, and we sat on that pitch early in the game – even when he threw it for strikes – and we hammered the fast ball,” explained Brown. “We have had that mindset for the last three games.”

Florek’s grand slam came after he popped out to short to start the game. Between innings, Brown stopped and chatted with his leadoff hitter – and the rest is history. Following his grand slam, Florek ripped a single, was hit by a pitch and crushed a double for a 3 for 4 afternoon at the plate.

“I told Florek that he was a little tight on his swing,” said Brown of the conversation. “He popped up the infield fly ball. I told him to relax himself on the next AB (at-bat) and get some extension with the barrel. Low and behold, he put it out and that was the kick-start. After that, it was downhill and we knew we had something going.”

Bellus, playing for the 2012 state champion Panthers, also wore No. 9 proudly. Down by one going into the seventh inning of the Kokomo Semi-State, Bellus drew a walk and eventually scored the go-ahead run that sent Western to Indianapolis. Another similarity to the 2012 semi-state title was the play of the bottom of the Panthers batting order. In 2012, the 6-7-8 hitters were 8 for 11 with six RBIs, six runs and three extra base hits. Fast forward to 2016 and the same batting positions (Brodee Lipinski, Burthay and O’Neal) were 7 for 12 with six RBIs, five runs scored and they reached base nine times. O’Neal reached base in his first four at-bats and finished with two singles, a double, three runs, two RBIs and a stolen base.

“I have always said that the team that hits the most is going to win,” said Brown after his Panthers outhit Delta 17-7. “I cannot stress how crucial those guys have been. We inserted Cooper into the eight-hole in the first game of the sectional. We were looking for something that could be a spark at the end of the lineup. Since he has been in there he has been an absolute spark for us. The top of the lineup is doing their thing, but the bottom is what keeps it moving.”

The Panthers followed the five-run second with four more in the third. Kaleb Howard led off with a double, and Tyler Knepley singled to put runners on the corners with one out. Lipinski followed with a sacrifice fly to center and Burthay and O’Neal both delivered RBI singles to extend the lead to 8-0. DeWeese plated O’Neal for a 9-0 lead on a walk.

Meanwhile, Panther ace pitcher Dalton Leighty was throwing bullets. He retired nine of the first 10 Delta hitters before giving up an unearned run in the fourth inning. Improving to 9-2 on the season, Leighty threw a complete game seven-hitter. He gave up four runs, three of which were earned, and struck out six.

“Yes, they scored late, but we felt zero pressure,” said Brown. “Dalton was hot and got some cramps. He just wanted to stay in the zone (with the lead). And I said that was fine. That is what happens when you get a lead – your pitcher does not have to stress. We know what Dalton does and what he gives us.”

Looking back at the season, Brown points to a loss in the Hoosier Conference Tournament semi-finals as the tipping-point of the season. The Panthers had a mid-season slump and then lost a heart-breaking 3-2, nine-inning game to Class 1A No. 1 Lafayette Central Catholic – a team that is also playing this coming Saturday. In the loss, several miscues, including on the base paths, lead to the loss.

“I firmly believe that game sparked us,” recalled Brown. “We sat in the outfield that day – I will never forget it – they were crying, everyone was upset after a tough loss like that, and I said, ‘Please remember this feeling.’ They all looked up and I told them to, ‘Remember the feeling that you have right now. You don’t ever want to have that feeling again. But at the same time I don’t ever want you to go away from it. I want you to keep that feeling in your body and know this is never how I want to be because I didn’t come through.’ Since then we have come through on the base paths and fielding and hitting. It is all working out for the good right now.”

The good included seven of the nine players scoring RBIs and all nine starters had hits for the Panthers in the semi-state game. Along with Florek and O’Neal, DeWeese had two RBIs, Howard had three hits (single, double and triple), Mills had two RBI’s, Knepley scored twice, Lipinski had two singles and two RBIs, Burthay had two singles and two RBIs, and Douglass had a run and an RBI.

Western’s (18-13) next stop is Victory Field, where they will battle the Northview Knights (24-6) from Brazil in Clay County. Game time for the Class 3A state championship game is scheduled for approximately 7 p.m. (following the 1A and 2A games).

KOKOMO BOUND: WESTERN PANTHERS WIN GRIFFITH REGIONAL TO EARN BERTH IN CLASS 3A FINAL FOUR AT MUNICIPAL STADIUM

Courtesy of Western High School

Courtesy of Western High School

GRIFFITH, Ind. – The Western Panthers baseball team is used to traveling the highways of Indiana by bus. But not like last weekend. The sectional champion baseball squad traveled nearly 500 miles via the yellow machine – but when they were done playing, the drive was worth every hour as they held the IHSAA Class 3A Griffith Regional trophy, and with it, a berth in the Final Four.

The journey to the regional round of the 50th Annual IHSAA State Baseball Tournament started normally – a quick trip up Interstate 65 to Griffith for the one-day, two-game regional. But Mother Nature suspended the Panthers game against Glenn on Saturday with Western leading 5-0. On Monday, they climbed back onto the bus for the 239-mile round trip and finished its first game with an 11-0 victory.

That set up a Monday night championship game between Western and the host Griffith Panthers. Unfortunately for Griffith, Western’s bats remained red-hot and they cruised to a 10-4 victory to send the team to the Kokomo Semi-State this Saturday at Municipal Stadium.

Tyler Burthay led the offensive attack with a solo home run in the fifth inning and an RBI double in the sixth. Kaleb Howard added his own solo home run, Brayden DeWeese had an RBI triple, Luke Florek had two doubles from the leadoff spot and Brodee Lipinski and Pat Mills each doubled. The power output surprised head coach Quentin Brown.

“We had two (home runs) coming into the sectional, and the second one was in the very last game of the season,” said Brown with bewilderment. “It is big to show a little bit of power. It has been timely as well; not only for us to score runs, but emotionally wise. Because we don’t do it a lot, it gives us an emotional kick start and it is huge for us.”

On the hill, Dalton Leighty earned wins in both games. He started the game on Saturday but did not finish when they returned to Griffith. But in the championship, with having Sunday off, he was able to step in and pitch the first four innings – he gave up three hits and a pair of earned runs while striking out six. Lipinksi earned the championship game save.

The win sends Western to its third Final Four in five years – it is also the seventh regional title in school history. Western won the state title in 2012 and fell in the semi-state the following season.

“I am happy for them. I was able to experience this as a player and an assistant coach – it is even sweeter now,” said Brown. “We had 15 hits in the first game and 10 in the second – our bats came alive.”

Western (14-12) now plays Delta (20-8) in the second game of the Kokomo Semi-State at approximately 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. The South Final Four in Class 3A has Northview (23-6) playing Evansville Memorial (22-9) in Jasper. Memorial knocked off No. 1 Jasper in the regional championship game. Game one at Kokomo (noon start time) will be Class 4A No. 1 Zionsville (29-4-2) and No. 6 Penn (27-3) in what could be the best game in the state.

Story by Dean Hockney and WIOU Sports Director Chris Lowry