BY DEAN HOCKNEY
(EDITOR’S NOTE: For complete coverage of Western’s state championship, see the June 19 issue of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana. If you don’t receive the Sports Journal, request your free subscription today.)
INDIANAPOLIS – One week ago, Western head coach Ty Calloway explained the Panthers team motto of “never give up” came from a famous Winston Churchill commencement speech. He said after the team got off to a 6-7 start to the season, they needed to regroup and not give up on the year. Calloway will need to change the wording to “never gave up” as his squad dominated the Brebeuf Jesuit Braves 8-1 at Victory Field to win the school’s first-ever IHSAA Class 3A state baseball championship.
“What can I say, we are elated,” said a smiling Calloway after the game. “I give credit to these kids because they really battled. We got off to a rocky start this year, but we battled back and we are now playing as a team.”
The Panthers wasted little time in flexing their muscle, scoring four runs in the top of the first inning off Notre Dame recruit Connor Hale. Marcus Pingleton led the game off with a walk, Adam Bolen singled and Evan Warden ripped a double down the third base line to give the Black Attack a quick 2-0 lead. After Dakota LaMott was hit by a pitch, Austin LaFollette doubled down the right field line and it was a 4-0 Panther lead.
“We got some good hits there, like we did against Bellmont,” said Calloway, who picked up his first state title after 640 career wins. “We came out a little bit hot, and when you do that, you take some pressure off your pitcher – and that is what we wanted to do.”
And the lack of pressure was appreciated by starting pitcher Ronnie Smith, who threw five innings of two-hit, one-run baseball. The Braves did not score its run until the fifth inning and Smith struck out four and walked three as he picked up his tenth – and most important – win of the season. He left the game after five innings, throwing 52 of his 85 pitches for strikes.
“I felt good coming into the game,” said the 6-foot-6 junior righty. “I struggled in getting strikes the last game, but I adjusted tonight. Coming into here (Victory Field) – you can’t even find the catcher’s glove with the crowd behind him. But you get in your zone and just play the game and I felt like I was able to get in a groove.”
Calloway was happy with the way his pitcher responded to the atmosphere.
Ronnie did a nice job,” said the hall of fame coach. “We talked (before the game) about Ronnie needing to get us at least four (innings) and then bring Evan (Warden) in. But he got us five innings tonight.”
Warden agreed with Smith about the way the team felt before the game. The young sophomore – who pitched the final two innings and had a double, triple and two RBIs at the plate – said the team was relaxed and ready to play.
“I can’t explain this feeling I am so happy,” he said. “We were relaxed before the game. Even before we got to the game we knew we would be up to speed – we knew we would be ready to play. I mean getting here is one thing, but we wanted to win.”
Calloway added about the pre-game mood: “I wasn’t really nervous at all tonight – I felt good vibes before the game.”
Longtime assist coach Dwight Singer has paced hundreds of coaching boxes, waiting for the chance to have an IHSAA medal draped around his neck.
“This is for all of the boys in the past who have come close and couldn’t get the brass ring,” he said. “This fulfills a lot of dreams and was a long-time coming.
LaFollette, whose first inning double may have spelled the end for Brebeuf, was nearly speechless after the trophy presentation.
“It is so surreal; I can’t believe this happened,” he said. “Last year, we were projected to go and didn’t. But we fought through adversary this year and won it. I am so happy for Ronnie and Evan; they threw a great game. We just hit the ball when we needed it and it felt good.”
Indiana high school state champions! Yep, that should feel good.
(This story is just the beginning. See the June 19 issue of the Sports Journal for stories on catcher Kyle Ennis, head coach Ty Calloway, the complete championship box score and nearly two dozen full-color photos.)