INDIANAPOLIS — Four local high school baseball teams played for sectional championships Monday, but only Knightstown was able to capture one.
In a tense and exciting game, the Panthers defeated tourney-host Heritage Christian 7-4 to win the championship of Class 2A Sectional 42.
The Panthers improved to 15-12 and will play Parke Heritage in the second semifinal game of Saturday’s Class 2A regional at Cascade High School. The Eagles bowed out of the tournament with a 14-16 record.
“We faced a bit of adversity early in the game when we struggled to get hits,” Knightstown Head Coach Robbie Miller remarked, “but our guys stuck with it, had some great at-bats, and we came out with the win. Our younger players have come a long way this season.”
Knightstown had a starting lineup of four seniors, a junior, and four freshmen, and all contributed to the victory.
Senior Mason Muncy started on the mound for Knightstown, and Heritage Christian was able to manufacture a run off him in the top of the first inning.
Eagles leadoff hitter, sophomore Andrew Wiggins and an early candidate for Indiana Mr. Basketball honors in 2023, led off by singling to centerfield.
Wiggins stole second base, moved to third on Asher Thompson’s groundout, and scored on an infield hit by by Jason Lewis for a 1-0 lead.
Lewis was caught and tagged while trying to steal second base for the second out, and Muncy fanned the next batter swinging after five pitches to end the half inning.
Wiggins was the starting pitcher for Heritage Christian, and his initial wildness enabled the Panthers to tie the game in the bottom of the first, and Knightstown could have scored more.
After Wiggins whiffed the leadoff batter swinging on a full-count pitch, Wiggins issued back-to-back walks to Aaron Reagan and Ben Newby on a total of nine pitches.
Reagan and Newby recorded a double steal, putting both in scoring position. Reagan scored on a wild pitch to tie the contest 1-1 with Newby moving to third.
Muncy walked on four pitches before fanning the next batter on five for the second out. Bryce Gorman walked on four pitches to load the bases.
But with the bags juiced, the next batter grounded to the shortstop, who stepped on second base to force out Gorman and end the inning.
The Eagles regained the advantage in the top of the second inning. After Muncy struck out the leadoff batter, Ty Vaughan walked on a full-count pitch and Luke Holloway came in to run for him. Ethan Baker’s double to left field moved Holloway to third base.
Blake McDonald executed a successful suicide squeeze with a perfectly-placed bunt single that plated Holloway for a 2-1 Heritage Christian lead, and there were runners on the corners with still only one out.
But Muncy buckled down, induced the next batter to pop up for the second out, and a Wiggins grounder resulted in McDonald being forced out at second base to retire the side.
Wiggins walked Brock Loveall with one out in the last of the second and issued a base on balls to Reagan with two away, but neither scored.
Not much happened offensively for either side in the third inning. Muncy retired the Eagles 1-2-3 on three straight groundouts in the top of the frame. Wiggins yielded a one-out single to Brayden McDaniel in the bottom half, but he didn’t get past first base.
Heritage Christian had an opportunity to break the game open in the top of the fourth inning, but failed to do so.
Leadoff batter Tyler Fields singled down the left field line, but Muncy retired the next two batters via pop-up and strikeout.
With two away, McDonald singled to centerfield and Tyler Allemeir came in to run for Fields at second base. Muncy walked Jonathan Dorsch on four pitches to load the sacks.
But Muncy induced Wiggins to fly out to Robert Porter in deep left field, and the Eagles stranded the three runners.
Not being able to come through at the plate in the clutch may have affected Wiggins, as Knightstown scored three runs off of him in the bottom of the fourth to grab the lead for good.
Leading off, Porter singled to centerfield on a 3-2 pitch and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Loveall. Porter advanced to third base on a wild pitch and scored on a single past the shortstop by Gunnar Hannis to tie the game 2-2.
Wiggins fanned the next batter on a full-count pitch. Hannis moved to second on a wild pitch. Newby then blasted a 2-1 Wiggins pitch over the centerfield fence for a two-run homer and a 4-2 Panther lead. Muncy lined out hard to the first baseman to end the inning.
“It was a fastball he threw me,” Newby said after the game about his home run. “I was looking for it, it was right down the middle, and I got all of it.”
Heritage Christian scored an unearned run in the top of of the fifth inning to trim its deficit.
Leading off, Thompson took a strike and then Muncy threw eight consecutive balls out of the strike zone to walk both him and Lewis. A wild pitch on a ball thrown to Seth Ambrose enabled the both runners to move into scoring position, and Thompson scored on a throwing error on the play to trim the Panther advantage to 4-3.
Muncy then buckled down, got Ambrose to line out to the first baseman, and retired the next two batters via strikeout and fly-ball out to end the half-inning.
Knightstown got that run back in its half of the fifth inning. Leading off, McDaniel reached base on an error and moved to second base on Gorman’s sacrifice bunt.
The next batter struck out swinging on Wiggins’ final pitch of the game, and Gavin Crawford came in to pitch for the Eagles with two away and a runner on second.
On a 2-2 pitch, Porter blooped a single into right field, driving in McDaniel for a 5-3 Knightstown advantage. Loveall walked on a 3-2 pitch, but Crawford whiffed the next batter on a called third strike after four pitches to avoid further damage.
Muncy worked out of another major jam in the top of the sixth inning. With one out, Muncy plunked McDonald with a pitch, Crawford singled down the left field line, and Wiggins (now playing in the outfield) singled to left field to load the bags.
But Muncy got the next batter to pop out to the second baseman and struck out the batter after than on three pitches, leaving the sacks filled.
“I have to credit my assistant coaches for their advice in leaving Mason in when the bases got loaded because I wanted to pull him then,” Miller said. “They said ‘just one more’ and he got a pop-up and a strikeout. Wiggins is a great player, but Mason Muncy was the best pitcher on the field today, working out of numerous jams to end up with the win.”
The Panthers added two insurance runs in the last of the sixth inning. Leading off, Reagan drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch and moved to second base on a single to left field by Newby. Reagan and Newby recorded a double steal to get both runners into scoring position.
Muncy had an interesting at-bat, fouling off seven consecutive Crawford pitches with the count 0-2 before taking a pitch for a ball. Muncy ended up fanning on the 11th pitch to him.
However, all hands were safe on McDaniel’s suicide squeeze on which Reagan crossed the plate. Newby scored on Gorman’s groundout on another suicide squeeze for a 7-3 Panther lead.
“Those two suicide squeeze plays were executed to perfection,” Miller noted, “and those two runs were huge. It makes it a lot easier entering the final inning with a four-run lead instead of a two-run lead.”
With two away, Crawford plunked Carson Smith with a pitch and Mason Young came in to run for Smith. But Crawford fanned the next batter swinging on three pitches to end the inning.
Reagan and Porter, along with teammate Brock Corbett, were players on the 2017 New Castle Babe Ruth League team that played in the World Series for 15 year-olds.
“I was thinking about not playing baseball my senior year,” Reagan said afterward. “But I’m glad I decided to play, and it’s been a fun season playing with a great bunch of guys. We have a solid team that can surprise some more teams in the tournament.”
In the top of the seventh inning, Muncy yielded a lead-off single to right field by Ambrose on a 2-2 pitch, and Newby came in to pitch for Knightstown.
Newby induced the first batter he faced to fly out to left field. Then the error bug temporarily bit the Panthers. The Eagles’ Zane Bennett reached base on a throwing error with Ambrose getting to third on the play. Holloway came in to run for Bennett.
Baker’s grounder was bobbled for an error, Ambrose scored to trim the Knightstown lead to 7-4, and Holloway ended up at second base.
But with the potential tying run at the plate, Newby induced the next batter to ground the ball to shortstop Smith, who stepped on second base and then threw the ball to first baseman McDaniel to complete a game-ending double play at 1:29 p.m.
The contest took 2:29 to complete.
“I wanted to finish the game, and felt I could because I had eight pitches left,” Muncy said afterward amid the on-field celebration. “But Coach said it was better to be safe than sorry. Ben did a nice job in relief and Carson bailed us out with that double play. We feel we have a team that can win the regional.”