Under the scorching hot sun at Ruxer Field in Jasper, the Class 1A Semi-state opponents couldn’t have been more alike.
Clay City, outfitted in retro purple-and-white uniforms lined the third-base dugout while Lanesville opted for the black-and-purple tops (leaving its similar retro kits hanging in the dugout). Each was seeking its first baseball semi-state title. Each was armed with a quality starting pitcher in Lanesville’s Brenden Bube and Clay City’s Hunter Wolfe.
Come the ninth inning, Lanesville just needed a few base runners. Tied at 2, the designated home Eagles put Tommy Tidstrom on by drawing his second walk of the game with one out. Pinch runner Owen Kerr moved to second when Jon Will was plunked by a Wolfe pitch.
The next pitch sent the screaming Eagles’ fans into a frenzy. Greg Daly placed a bunt toward third base. Wolfe fielded the ball quickly and came up firing to third baseman Johnathan Pearson, who couldn’t handle the throw. As the ball trickled left of the foul line, Kerr scampered toward the plate as the remaining Eagles poured out of the dugout.
Immediately, Lanesville piled on Kerr just beyond home plate, knowing they had a date set for Victory Field in Indianapolis, a win away from the school’s first state title in any sport.
‘That was insane,’ Lanesville sophomore third baseman Noah Jones said. ‘When they overthrew it, I won’t say I was the first one out (of the dugout), but, when Owen went past the plate, I grabbed him. I went crazy pretty quick. I was just so happy. It’s unbelievable.’
Bube, who had a first-inning home run, went the full nine innings on the hill to earn the 3-2 win.
‘I was sitting there when Greg got the bunt down, and I figured the game would come down to me,’ Bube said of waiting on deck. ‘It was a similar situation to last weekend, but this time we just needed one run. It’s a great team. It’s the best feeling ever.’
Lanesville coach Zach Payne, his second year as the Eagles’ skipper, said he had close calls at getting to Victory Field as a player at Providence High School. The trip to Indianapolis is now a reality for the coach and his never-give-up group of players.
‘I dreamed about this as a player,’ Payne said. ‘I was close twice as a player and close once as a coach (at Providence). I never would have thought it would happen this early at Lanesville. It’s a dream come true, especially coaching with three, four of my best friends. I’m really lucky.’
Lanesville jumped on Wolfe quickly in the opening inning. Bube took a fastball over the left-center field fence, circling the bases for a 1-0 lead.
‘After I check swung on the curve ball, I had a feeling he’d come back with a fastball,’ Bube said. ‘I was thinking about barreling the ball up. I didn’t even swing hard, and it happened to go.’
The Eagles welcomed a pair of two-out errors by the Eels in the bottom of the third to take a 2-0 edge. Bube reached on a missed fly in right field. He then scored when a ball off the bat of Ryan McCubbins skirted through the legs of Pearson.
‘When Bube hit the home run, we were hyped,’ Jones said. ‘We thought we were getting some momentum when we scored again, but we hit a slump where we couldn’t get a hit.’
Bube rolled through the first three innings. He was aided by a pair of successful pick-offs, hooking up with shortstop Jon Will for one and the other by way of catcher Evan Peele throwing down to Cameron Harvey at first.
Clay City picked up its first hit off Bube in the fourth with an opposite-field single dumped into left by Noah Denker. Wolfe then reached on an infield single to short.
The Eels scored when Denker stole third and an overthrow by Peele sent him home. Pearson brought Wolfe around with an infield ground out to even the game at 2-all.
The fifth, sixth, eight and ninth innings saw Bube retire Clay City in order. His only hairy moment was in the seventh when Brenan Walker and Pearson led off with singles, the latter a well-placed bunt between Bube and Jones.
To get out of the jam, Bube and Jones hooked up for a force out at third to ruin Corbin Crosby’s sac-bunt attempt. Bube then induced a Jarrett Fischer ground out to Harvey then struck out Dustin Schauwecker.
‘When I started the season with a 15-, 16-strikeout games, I think my defense got a little bored,’ Bube said. ‘I’m to the point now where I can count on myself to locate pitches where (assistant) coach (Josh) Smith wants them. We want weak contact. I have eight other guys behind me I trust.’
Payne said his pitcher has been key to the postseason run.
‘There is not enough words,’ Payne said to describe Bube’s pitching effort. ‘One hundred-thirty pitches. He’s got one week to rest, and he’s in incredible shape. He’s a workhorse, and I wouldn’t want anyone else on the mound.’
Just as impressive was Wolfe for the Eels. He closed with 12 strikeouts and only gave up two total hits.
‘Every game you play in the postseason is probably going to be a pitcher’s duel,’ Payne said. ‘You are going to see the other team’s best. We’ve accepted it and go with our best.’
Peele had a single to start the fourth, but a sac bunt to move courtesy runner Kerr to second left him stranded. The Eagles put a runner on in the fifth (walk), sixth (error) and eighth (walk) but, again, couldn’t come up with a hit.
‘I’m really proud of Brenden,’ Daly said. ‘He really stuck through it and was tough. He had to pitch a lot last weekend and again today. Give credit to the other pitcher; he was fantastic.’
It wasn’t until the ninth that the Eagles put pressure on the Eels with runners on base. The momentum to the dugout between innings was lifted when Peele caught another base runner stealing.
Tidstrom’s five-ball walk set up the historic ninth. The comeback was similar to the 10-inning triumph over Northeast Dubois a week prior. Will was hit by a pitch then, and again versus Clay City, in the decisive frame.
‘I saw the pitch coming, and I thought it was a curve ball but it never spun and plunked me,’ Will said. ‘I wasn’t expecting that, but I was almost hit three times this game.’
‘It was just like last week,’ Payne said. ‘Once Jon Will got hit, I knew we were going to score. With Owen on second, I had a feeling Greg would make something happen. Honestly, that pitcher made a pretty good play, but Greg got it done.’
Daly’s bunt eventually sent Kerr home on the bad throw. Sprinting down the line, Daly said he initially had no idea where the throw went.
‘I got on first and heard the crowd,’ Daly recalled. ‘I was looking to see where the throw was. Then, all of a sudden, I’m running to home. I knew Owen was going to score.’
The party behind the plate commenced before shaking hands with the Eels and posing with many celebratory photos with friends, family and fans.
‘Being that we played so much last week and practiced all week in the heat, we knew we’d get it done mentally,’ Jones said. ‘We knew we could get it done.’
Bube finished the game with eight strikeouts and walked three. He said a diving attempt on a foul bunt knocked the wind out him for a bit, but a meeting with assistant coach John Henry Graf encouraged him to keep fighting.
‘We did it,’ Bube said. ‘It’s awesome. My mom was in tears. I don’t think I’ve seen this town this happy. We made history, and it’s a great feeling.’
Wolfe, a Purdue University-bound lefty senior, took the loss for Clay City (15-9).
‘He could throw all of his pitches for strikes in any count,’ Payne said of the opposite pitcher. ‘Our kids were hitting curve balls on 2-0 counts. It’s not something you see a lot from pitchers. We have some aggressive guys. We swung at some we shouldn’t have, but we gave ourselves a chance.’
Lanesville’s (15-11) lone previous chance at the Jasper Semi-state came in 1975, but Greenwood nipped the Eagles 2-1 in 10 innings.
Now, it’s a date with Daleville (20-9) for the Class 1A state title at Victory Field on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Payne said he’s made one trip to the home of the Indianapolis Indians before and doubts if any of his players have before.
‘This won’t kick in we are going to state until we are practicing again,’ Daly said.
‘Going to Victory Field; let’s bring the juice,’ Will said.
Clay City 000 200 000 ‘ 2 4 4
Lanesville 100 100 001 ‘ 3 2 2
W ‘ Bube, L ‘ Wolfe.
HR ‘ Bube (L).
Records: Lanesville 15-11, Clay City 15-9.