BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – In 2011, fans at the David Kasey Memorial Youth Baseball Tournament called the championship game an instant classic after H.P. McPike used a walk-off single to claim its first Howard County title. Three years later, McPike played in another instant classic – this time with the potential winning run stranded at third base in the bottom of the sixth – to claim its third title in four season. The win was cause for another word to be used after the game – dynasty.
In a thrilling championship game played at Northside’s Carl Hughes Jr. Memorial Field, the McPike Astros of UCT defeated Hollingsworth Lumber of Russiaville 3-2 to become just the second team in the 58-year history of the Kokomo Tribune sponsored tournament to win three titles in a four year span. The Astros join 1964, 1965 and 1967 First National Bank Nationals of Northside to hold the distinction.
“I think this one here is a little bit better,” said McPike manager Jason Hurlock on winning this third title. “I knew their pitching was going to be strong and I knew some of our kids would struggle a little (on offense). I just hoped our pitching would come through, and eventually, our bats would come through. It ended up being a lot closer than I wanted.”
Make no mistake, this game was a pitcher’s duel with four players climbing the Northside hill and combining for 22 strike outs and just six hits. How dominant was the pitching? The first six batters of the game walked back to the dugout with a K next to their name. Matt McCauley for Hollingsworth got the game started by striking out the McPike side and Justin Hurlock – the Sports Journal Player of the Game – countered with the same pitching effort in the bottom of the first.
Justin Hurlock pitched the first three innings for McPike, giving up no runs, two hits, one walk and striking out seven. Hollingsworth countered with a rotating pitching effort. McCauley pitched the first two innings, giving up one hit and no runs. Nathaniel Liddell entered and pitched a scoreless third.
With the game scoreless after three, McCauley returned to the mound in the top of the fourth and promptly walked Mitchell Dean and Gavin Wallace. Justin Hurlock then calmly stepped to the plate and crushed a one-hop double to the fence, scoring Dean and Wallace for a 2-0 lead. Parker Dean then sent a fly ball to center field, which was easily caught by Alex Jackson. Justin Hurlock tagged on the play, and without hesitation, rounded third and beat the relay throw to the plate for an improbable score, making Parker’s fly out a sacrifice fly.
“My dad told me I was scoring if it was hit to the outfield,” said 12-year old Justin Hurlock, referring to his manager-father who was also the third base coach. Hurlock is thought to be the only baseball player in Kasey Tourney history to play on three championship teams. “I just ran hard all the way home. I knew they would hit the ball, so I wanted to score more runs. This is pretty amazing.”
Parker Dean said he knew Hurlock would score once he saw him round third.
“It feels great; very awesome,” said 10-year old Parker Dean on recording the RBI. “We just had to play McPike baseball. That was crazy, but he (Hurlock) runs fast and I thought he would make it.”
With Justin Hurlock hitting his maximum on innings pitched, Wallace took the hill and, after giving up a single to the first batter he faced, retired the next six hitters in order – four by strikeout.
McPike did not score in the fifth or sixth and led 3-0 as Hollingsworth came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth with its 2-3-4 hitters due up. Cullen Dalpoas led the inning off by being hit by a pitch and McCauley walked, setting up Luke Lechner’s RBI double to the fence. Wallace settled down and struck out the next two hitters and was one strike away for a championship when he threw a wild pitch to score McCauley and put Lechner – the game-tying run – at third. Two pitches later, Wallace recorded his third straight strikeout and McPike was celebrating for the third time in four years.
“I stayed focused because I didn’t want them to score another run on me,” said 12-year old Wallace, who picked up the save on Hurlock’s win. “When they got runners on second and third, it was pretty high pressure, but I knew I had to get them out.”
“It was driving me crazy over there,” said Jason Hurlock. “My hats off to our kids; they didn’t give up and fought all the way.”
Parker Dean said when the season started, this group of baseball players had no thought of winning a season championship. In fact, McPike (20-4) didn’t even win its own league tournament.
“I have learned you have to stay confident,” he said. “When we got into the gym the first day, it was like, ‘whoa.’ Coach Hurlock is a great coach and really helped us.”
Jacob Moore, a 12-year old who earned his second title, was thrilled with the win. He gave credit to coaches Hurlock, Danny Dean, Matt Wallace, Klent Partlow and Chris Campbell for the teams’ success.
“I am really glad we won this year,” said Moore. “We started the year with a win and ended with a win. I was pretty confident because he had good pitchers and we hit the ball well. We have great coaches who volunteer with our team.”
Justin Hurlock and Parker Dean recorded McPike’s only two hits, both doubles. Hollingsworth had four hits: a single and double from Lechner, a single from Josh Rush and a single from Payton Irwin.
After winning the Kasey Tourney for the third time, many wonder if McPike can add to its legacy. With eight players returning, including six starters, this may not be the last Howard County hears from this squad.
“Now we can see if we can win another one next year,” said Jason Hurlock.