Dog pile: Rebels win 4th straight title
Nathan Shaffer and Tanner Stark were at the top step … waiting.
The pair of seniors intently watched their classmate Austin Knear’s approach at the plate in the fifth inning. With a nine-run lead, Knear’s grounder to the left side of the New Washington defense was booted, allowing the speedster to reach first base and drive in the game-ending run.
Nearly sprinting down the line with Knear were Shaffer and Stark, beginning the dog pile of Rebels baseball players.
‘I was ready to break through,’ Stark said of the final play. ‘As soon as Austin hit it, I knew it was over. I was right in the middle of the dog pile. My face was in the dirt the whole time.’
Stark grinned while describing the final moments of South Central’s 10-0 five-inning victory Monday over New Washington in the Class A South Central Sectional, which marked the fourth straight title for the program.
‘It means the world to me,’ Knear said. ‘I can’t explain the feeling other than I just enjoy playing baseball.’
Of late, the Rebels have been on fire. The win over the Mustangs was the eighth in a row and 11th in their last 12 outings. Not only has South Central been hot late in the season, but in recent postseasons.
As a baseball program, South Central hoisted its sixth sectional title since 2005.
‘It’s good to know we can keep the success and tradition going,’ Stark, the South Central second baseman, said. ‘It takes a lot of hard work.’
It wasn’t an easy path to the title. First, the No. 8 Rebels had to defeat No. 11 Borden, then their county rival, Lanesville. Although South Central run-ruled New Washington in the regular season, the Rebels had to make sure there was no let up. The Mustangs gave them a battle, collecting eight hits in five innings. A pair of double plays turned by South Central helped preserve the shutout.
‘We played them in the regular season and 10-run ruled them early, but this time they really fought hard,’ Shaffer said of New Washington. ‘We always seem like we’re the team that has to play three games at sectional. It makes us better because we need these experiences to do well at regional.’
For South Central coach Brian McKnight, the road to a sectional title is never easy. It’s his second trophy as head coach, and he was part of coaching staffs that won previous sectionals.
‘Everybody threw their best at us,’ McKnight said of the tournament. ‘It’s nice to go out and beat those guys. It gets tougher every year, it really does. The kids are willing to put in the time and commitment, and they see the rewards of it. That’s the big thing.’
Leading 5-0 going into the bottom of the fifth against the Mustangs, the Rebels put on the first five runners. During the previous four innings, all of South Central’s runs came with two outs.
Alex Goforth reach on a shortstop error, then Jack Turner drew a walk. New Washington opted to bring in Jesse Clemons to pitch in relief, taking over for southpaw Nolan Brison.
Shaffer was the first to greet Clemons, belting a two-run double in his at-bat. Logan May and Joseph Logsdon drew walks to load the bases before Shaffer scored on a wild pitch.
After striking out Cory Ray, Nick Veith reached on a fielder’s choice that brought home the ninth run, setting the table for Knear to deliver the game-winner.
‘I was thinking about the moment before I went to bat,’ Knear said of the game-winner. ‘To reach first was a great feeling.’
Knear said that when he turned around to celebrate, his teammates were already ‘right up on me.’
‘A great moment,’ he said.
Simple instructions came from McKnight at the third-base coaching box for Knear.
‘I told Austin to put it in play and run as fast as you can to first base,’ McKnight said. ‘Joe was going to score no matter what. We put the pressure on them in that inning. They weren’t going to throw (Knear) out anyways.’
Cory Ray earned the win on the bump, going four-plus innings. He allowed two runners on in all four innings but recorded strike-outs to elude giving up runs in the first, second and third.
In the fourth, Stark caught a fly ball off the bat of James Clemons for an out but made it two when he doubled up Cameron Brunnemer, who was trying to reach second.
New Washington had singles by Joe Kehrwald and Lane Johnson to start the fifth, but McKnight called on Shaffer to close the game. He induced a 5-3 double play off the bat of Zachery Hagan to preserve the shutout.
To start the scoring, South Central brought in three runs in the first. Gabhart had an RBI single followed by a Goforth double down the left-field line. Jack Turner brought around the third run with a single to right.
One run was added in the third, courtesy of another Goforth RBI, this time a single. Another came in via an error in the fourth inning. Knear’s hit to short was misplayed, allowing Nick Veith to score.
Although New Washington held steady through four innings, it came apart in the fifth.
‘It means a lot to me,’ Shaffer said. ‘To win four is an accomplishment no one else has done before. I’ve played with a lot of these guys since I was little. It’s great.’
Shaffer said a proud thought is their senior class was never beaten in sectional play.
South Central finished with nine hits, getting two each from Ray and Goforth. Every batter in the Rebels’ lineup reached base by either hit or walk.
‘Up and down the lineup, they were productive all tournament,’ McKnight said.
New Washington’s Lane Johnson and Corgan Wampler had two hits each, part of the Mustangs’ eight as a team.
‘They hit the ball well tonight, and we were able to get out of innings,’ McKnight said of the Mustangs offense. ‘Cory threw well but left a few pitches up. It seems like when he did, they hit it hard. He was able to scatter those out.’
In the last three trips to the Loogootee Regional, the Rebels have made at least the final. They won the regional in 2012.
‘Coach said we have Tecumseh,’ Shaffer said. ‘Our focus is winning that first game first. You can’t look ahead.’
The Loogootee Regional will take place Saturday with South Central (20-8) taking on Tecumseh (10-15) at 11 a.m. The second game will feature No. 4 Vincennes Rivet (19-7) versus the Springs Valley Sectional winner (Trinity Lutheran played No. 2 Orleans last night) at 1 p.m. The championship will take place at 8 p.m.
‘Keep playing our game and try to win us a regional,’ Stark said of the next step in the tournament series.
Admission on Saturday will be $6 per session or $9 for both sessions.
New Washington 000 00 ‘ 0 8 4
South Central 301 15 ‘ 10 9 2
W ‘ Ray, L ‘ Brison.
2B ‘ Goforth (SC), Shaffer (SC).