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