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June 13, 2014

Rival Castle up next for Patriots

TERRE HAUTE — Revenge isn’t the purest of motives, but it’s one that two of the three Wabash Valley high school baseball teams involved in semistate games have in common today.

And it could come in handy for Terre Haute North’s Patriots.

One week after a heroic, heart-stopping victory over top-ranked Indianapolis Cathedral for the Class 4A Avon Regional championship, it might have been easy for the Patriots to rest on their laurels.

But facing Castle, the team that handed them their last two regular-season losses, should keep them ready.

“[Castle] played very well against us,” coach Shawn Turner said earlier this week in recalling that May 24 doubleheader won 6-3 and 8-0 by the Knights, “and we hope to return that favor.”

North and Castle play at approximately 3:30 p.m. today at Jasper’s Ruxer Field, after a 1 p.m. Class 2A southern semistate game between Indianapolis Ritter and Evansville Mater Dei.

Also playing the second game today, but at Plainfield, is Shakamak, the other team hoping to avenge a regular-season loss. The Lakers meet Vincennes Rivet, a team that beat them 4-1 during the regular season.

Hoping to meet the Lakers or Rivet’s Patriots at Victory Field a week from now is Rockville, which plays for the Class A northern semistate title at 1 p.m. at Kokomo against Washington Township.

The Rox also knocked off the top-ranked team in their class last weekend, downing Frontier 3-1 in the semifinals of the Class A Carroll Regional.

Washington Township was ranked ninth in the final poll, with Rockville fifth, Vincennes Rivet fourth and Shakamak third. Class A is the only one of the four classes with four ranked teams still alive, and in Class 4A the only remaining top-10 team is eighth-ranked Noblesville, which plays Lake Central today. Both North and Castle received votes, but not enough to make the top 10.

The Knights looked plenty good last month against the Patriots, however.

“We saw their top two pitchers,” Turner recalled, “and they both did a nice job. … [The Knights] should have all the confidence in the world.”

So should the Patriots, who got a team-wide offensive effort — the second of two doubles by Lane Dransfield being the biggest hit — plus clutch pitching by Greg Hannum, Tristan Pate and Austin Hicks in knocking off the Irish.

“It was kind of surreal,” Dransfield said last Saturday in describing his bases-loaded blast that triggered the first of consecutive three-run innings in the eventual 8-7 win. “I knew if I didn’t get a hit, we probably wouldn’t be playing again. I looked for my pitch, I hit a double, and it was awesome.”

Although sophomore T.J. Collett leads the state in three offensive categories (homers, slugging percentage and on-base percentage) and is second in another (RBI), Turner has emphasized his team is “not a one-man band” and heroes can come from any spot in the batting order.

The Castle doubleheader, the coach pointed out, was “our fifth and sixth games in a week, and we played tired baseball.

“A lot of people think it’s hard to beat a team three times, and we hope that’s the case [today].”

Shakamak also wasn’t at the top of its game against Rivet during the season, coach Chip Sweet said.

“The first time [we played Rivet] we were in the midst of an offensive slump,” Sweet remembered. “I’ve told people I thought it was our one bad loss of the year. … We’re a totally different ballclub now [the switch of longtime catcher Dylan Collins to the infield a key] and we’re swinging the bats a lot better.”

One player who has swung the bat well all season is shortstop Brett Yeryar, ranked third in the state with a .591 batting average. It will be a different Yeryar — Braxton, Brett’s cousin — on the mound, probably facing Zach Templin of Rivet. Templin is ranked among the state leaders in both homers and earned run average.

“We’ll have to score more than one run,” Sweet said when asked about the keys to today’s game, “and we’ll have to get good pitching and make plays.

“We’ve basically split with [Rivet] the last four years,” he continued. “I like our chances if we play like we’re capable.”

Coach Bob Kyle of Rockville goes into today’s game with the same philosophy, saying earlier this week, “the key for us is to be ourselves.”

Two Rockville seniors, catcher John Brown (Marian) and pitcher/third baseman Dalton Clark (Ancilla) will be playing in college next season, and the Rox have more future candidates for post-high school play.

“We have a team of athletes who love baseball,” the veteran coach said. “I could see six more of [the underclassmen] playing in college.”

Washington Township, Kyle said, appears to be “a lot like Frontier. Their pitching is pretty good, comparable to ours, and they put the ball in play and are good defensively. They like to run, they like to bunt and run and they are fundamentally sound.”

Teams one game away from Victory Field are always going to be dangerous, of course, and the importance of the games might not contribute to flawless play. At the end of the day today, all three coaches would probably be happy to summarize their games the way Turner did after the Cathedral victory.

“We don’t have to be pretty all the time,” the North coach said then, “but we’re pretty good.”

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