Craig Trout had a young team when he began his third season as Northview's head baseball coach, but it was one he was familiar with.
"I was pretty excited," he said recently. "We had a large group that had won something like six state titles [in youth baseball], and then we added [sophomore] Braydon Tucker, who had moved in his freshman year."
As it turned out, that six state titles became seven. The Knights beat Western 2-1 to win the 2016 Class 3A state championship.
It remains the only state championship in school history, and as a result the 2016 baseball team ranks as Northview's all-time best team.
It wasn't an open-and-shut case. Northview was the state softball runner-up in 1995, when it was still a one-class tournament, and has been state runner-up in volleyball in both 2014 and 2018. Trout also played on a baseball team that won a Class 4A regional in 2005, and the 2017 Knights were very close to returning to Victory Field for a second time.
But the 2016 Knights got it done, and in inspirational fashion.
"We had some struggles early," Trout recalled of his 2016 team, which won its last 13 games to finish 25-6. "I was thinking [early in the season], 'If we could just get some hits.' "
A Big Four tournament game against Terre Haute North is one Trout remembers, because that seemed to be an offensive turning point.
"We were one hit away from losing by the 10-run rule," he recalled, "and we came back and almost beat [the Patriots] by the 10-run rule [winning 16-7]."
Northview lost its Big Four game to Terre Haute South two days after the North win, but the Knights didn't lose again. They avenged a regular-season loss to Edgewood to win the Western Indiana Conference crossover game and, as the coach said, "Got some momentum."
The Knights that spring were a team that had to be seen a few times to be appreciated, and probably a maddening team to try to scout.
"We only hit .300 as a team, and for high school that's not very good," Trout acknowledged. "We had great pitching [with senior veteran Nate Thomas, Tucker and crafty Luke Lancaster, who provided a noticeable contrast to either of the other two if used in relief] . . . and we were always really tough; we always found a way."
Tucker led Northview with a .393 batting average, while shortstop and leadoff hitter Mitchell Howald hit .385 and scored 37 runs. Catcher Dalton Shaw, the only other senior, hit .340 and led the Knights with 36 RBI.
Center fielder/second baseman Jase Glassburn hit .328, but the rest of the Knights — Lancaster (who also played first base), Thomas (who also played second base), outfielders Matt Clawson and Hayden France, third baseman Alex Reinoehl and designated hitter Andrew Osborn — all were in the .200s, and it took France's last hit of the season for him to reach that level. "Not an offensive powerhouse," Trout admitted.
The Knights beat West Vigo to open sectional play, after splitting with the Vikings during the regular season, then beat Sullivan and what Trout called "a very good Owen Valley team" by a 2-0 score to win the sectional.
"I had been on a sectional winner as a player [in that 2005 campaign] . . . but it took me three years to win one as a coach," Trout said. "Fortunately, I had a lot of people around me who had been there."
Jim Tucker was one of his assistants, but Trout also had selected a couple of veterans for his staff — former basketball coach Mitch Lancaster and Tony Trout, Craig's father. Former baseball and volleyball coach Scott McDonald was also available for advice.
"We went to Crawfordsville for the regional and played Brebeuf, a very good hitting team, and it was a total slugfest," Craig Trout recalled. His Knights responded, however, winning that game 8-7 and then downing Indian Creek 11-4 in the championship game that night.
"And that's when coach Lancaster said to me, 'Let's get greedy,' " Craig Trout added.
Evansville Memorial had sidelined Jasper, so Northview didn't have to play the host team at the semistate. Although Clay City wasn't able to make it a Clay County sweep, the Eels losing to Lanesville in the first of the two games at Jasper, the Knights got a shutout from Tucker and beat Memorial 5-0.
The game-breaking play was a perfectly placed bunt by Glassburn that ignited a big inning. "It was a surreal moment, knowing we were going to Victory Field," the coach recalls.
Omens weren't good for the Knights during state-finals week. A power outage forced the pep session for the team to be moved, rains forced some of the Northview practices indoors and some younger kids "borrowed" some of the Knights' equipment from their practice field. On the way to Victory Field, a traffic jam forced the team bus to drive on the shoulder of the highway to enable the team to arrive on time — only to have the preceding game to go extra innings and force both Western and the Knights to have to sit and wait.
"It felt like everything was against us," Craig Trout said.
But Tucker, after giving up a two-out RBI single in the top of the second inning, allowed just one hit the rest of the way. The Knights — who their coach said "never hit in the first five innings" — tied the score in the bottom of the fifth when Lancaster's leadoff single became a run thanks to a two-out error. And with two out in the bottom of the sixth, Reinoehl drew a walk, Lancaster got another hit and then France hit the RBI single for the championship-winning run.
As indicated, Northview was hard to scout because a different hero seemed to emerge whenever one was needed.
"That's how selfless they were," Trout said proudly. "They didn't care [who got the credit]. Not a bunch of [Division I] guys, but grinders . . . gritty, blue-collar. They epitomized what I always think of our community."