BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – After 35 seasons, 638 wins, 15 sectional championships and an induction into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, Western High School baseball coach Ty Calloway had one thing missing from his resume – a trip to the IHSAA state finals. Win number 639 changed that. In a wild thriller at the Kokomo Class 3A North Semi-State last Saturday at cfd Investments Stadium in Highland Park, the Panthers pulled a stunner and rallied to topple Bellmont 11-6, and in the process, punch their ticket to Victory Field this Friday evening. After the big win, Calloway reflected on a few short words.
“I talked to the kids about the shortest commencement speech ever made,” said Calloway, with obvious emotion on his face. “It was nine words made by Winston Churchill. He got up and said, ‘Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.’ And that has been our motto the last three weeks.”
It is a good thing the Black Attack adopted the motto. After Jake Florek doubled and scored the go-ahead run on an Adam Bolen sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth, the Panthers lost the lead as Bellmont’s Brian Hakes rocked a long homer for a one run lead after six. And that is where the “never give up” motto came into play. While some teams might have folded under the pressure, the Panthers stood tall in the top of the seventh.
Dakota LaMott was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, Drew Bellus walked, and Austin LaFollette singled to load the bases with no outs. No. 7 hitter Devon Eaker then became a Western legend with a long single high off the stadium’s signature 30-foot right field fence, scoring LaMott and Bellus to take a 7-6 lead – a lead they would not relinquish.
“We were going to try and take a few pitches there, and we did and got a couple of guys on base with a hit by pitch and a walk,” said Calloway. “Give Eaker credit; that was a huge hit by a sophomore.”
By the time the dust had settled, Western posted six runs and held a commanding 11-6 lead going into the bottom of the seventh. After walking the leadoff Bellmont hitter, Evan Warden retired the final three Brave batters, sending the Panthers to the programs first-ever state championship game.
“I will take this. I will take this over all of the others,” said Calloway when asked how this win stacked up against his first 638. “They have all been sweet. We have been close a few times, but it sure was nice to get over the hump. Give these kids credit, they kept working hard and we got it done.”
Florek had a monster day for the Panthers, going 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles, two runs scored and three RBI’s. In fact, the numbers six, seven and eight hitters – LaFollette, Eaker and Florek – combined to go 8 for 11 at the plate, with six RBI’s, six runs scored and three extra base hits.
“It was for the team,” said Florek. “We played No. 5 Zionsville this year and got down 2-0 and we came back and scored 10 runs the next inning. We knew we had to repeat that. We had to stay calm and do what he knew we could do.”
Bolen was another key ingredient to the win, getting things started for the Panthers with a first inning triple, then scoring on a LaMott base hit. He added an RBI double in the fourth and a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
“All I had to do was keep calm and not let my emotions take over,” said Bolen. “I had faith in our guys. I knew we would get it done. We like to call it ‘beast mode.’ It just gets us pumped up and confident. We just have to stay confident and play solid baseball.”
Western (24-9) will play the Braves of Indianapolis Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School (21-8) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. for the Class 3A state title at Victory Field in Indianapolis. Brebeuf upset No. 3-ranked Greensburg 10-9 in the Plainfield South Semi-State to advance to the finals.
“We played Brebeuf in the Benton Central tournament a few years back, so we know the program although the players will be different,” said Calloway.
And now the quest for Ty Calloway’s 640th career win is on – and that win would bring with it the first baseball state championship for the Western Panthers. Never give up …