Austin puts down Wolfpack
By Brandon Miniard, Contributing Writer
An anomalous late-May chill settled over Larry Ingram Field in New Pekin early Saturday, May 29, as Eastern High School hoped to conclude the semifinals of the Indiana High School Athletic Association Class 2A Baseball Sectional 46. Along with temperatures that barely cracked into the 60s, there was the threat of rain, though all it could do was push scheduled game times back an hour.
The first semi-final matchup provided little excitement as Providence defeated the host Musketeers 11-0, punching its ticket to the sectional championship on Memorial Day. The second semifinal looked to avoid a similar fate as Crawford County and Austin, both made it to the semifinals by virtue of earning the two first-round byes for the six-team sectional.
While the Eagles had a perfect first inning, the same could not be said for the Wolfpack in the bottom half. Despite striking out the first batter he faced, sophomore right-hander Blake Decker quickly ran into trouble, walking a pair en route to loading the bases. With only one out, Eagles’ starter Brady Watts helped his cause on the mound with a bloop single to bring the first run home. Cameron Richey followed with a sacrifice fly to give the Eagles an early 2-0 edge.
“I contribute it a lot to just the walks,” coach Isaac Bowles said. “That’s when I can kind of tell that (Decker’s) nerves were really getting to him. When you fall behind 3-0 twice in a row and then you battle back, that’s not gonna work out. It’s a learning experience for him and, hopefully, for us as a whole.”
That two-run first inning was only the beginning as the Eagles’ offense teed off on Decker for four runs in the second and another pair in the third, courtesy of a two-run home run by Parker Bruce. Even as Bowles replaced Decker with another sophomore righty in Isaac Nickelson, the Eagles continued their assault by scoring three more runs between the fourth and fifth frames.
While Decker, and later Nickelson, struggled to keep the Eagles’ bats in check, the same could not be said for Watts as he dominated the Wolfpack’s offense through four shut-out innings. Even as Watts was replaced by Bruce in the fifth, the Wolfpack fared no better against the reliever as their season concluded on a run-rule shortened 11-0 loss.
With the loss, the Wolfpack concludes what has been a difficult 4-17 campaign. Despite lacking many wins, Bowles is focused on the near future for his young Wolfpack, many of whom were robbed of a junior varsity season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We expected to compete a little bit more at the plate than we did, but we’re a young team and not having last year really hurt us,” Bowles said. “It hurt us with these young guys not getting to have a JV season last year, so our mindset was getting the experience of a sectional game.”
After eight seniors graduated in 2020 without a proper send-off, the Wolfpack will now say goodbye to a quintet of graduates in outfielders Noah Adams, Cameron Daugherty and Trevor Harvey and infielders Nicholas Higgins and Bryce Rahman. While most of this year’s senior class spent a majority of their days on the field, Harvey departed New Pekin having completed his first season on a baseball diamond since the eighth grade.
“It was fun; it was nice to get some time to get back on the diamond, to be back with my friends,” Harvey said. “We all enjoyed it, but we wish we could have been more successful.”
While the Wolfpack made the final bus ride back to Marengo, the Eagles (14-15) found themselves in a Memorial Day showdown against Providence (18-7) for the sectional championship, with the Pioneers looking for their first sectional title since 2017 after competing as a Class 3A program in 2018 and 2019 due to the IHSAA Success Factor.