As the various members of the Wapahani baseball team received their medals as the Class 2A state champions on Saturday, it was clear coach Brian Dudley received the loudest applause from his players. To Taylor McKee, recent history served to cement why Dudley received such praise from his squad as it celebrated a 2-0 win against Evansville Mater Dei at Victory Field in Indianapolis.
Dudley was hit with an errant ball during warmups last week, and missed his team’s semistate victory with injury. He was back in action for Saturday’s win.
“We all know he’s been through a lot these last two weeks,” McKee said. “And he’s been here so long and put in so many hours. And it’s just awesome that we finally did it for him.”
As Dudley talked about the significance of the first state title in his 31-year tenure as Wapahani’s baseball coach, he made a point to mention it was about more than just him, quickly bringing up the contributions of longtime assistant coach Jason Dudley.
And the title carries undisputed historical significance beyond Wapahani’s head coach.
It is the first baseball state championship in Wapahani’s history, and also the first baseball state title for any school from Delaware County.
“It’s a neat thing for our kids to always be able to say that; our community will always be able to say that,” Brian Dudley said. “Winning state championships aren’t easy and to bring one back to Wapahani is awesome.”
Only three Delaware County teams had reached the state championship game before Saturday, and all three came out on the wrong ends of those games. The 1980 Northside squad accomplished that feat, as did the 2004 Wapahani team and the 2008 Cowan Blackhawks.
As they celebrated the title Saturday, Wapahani’s players were aware of the historical significance. Some of them, such as Luke Snider, attended the game when Wapahani finished as the runner-up in 2004. And Snider was feeling the support from the 2004 team on Saturday.
“You look at the 2004 team, there’s some people out there and they’re happy for us,” Snider said. “And just to see them happy for us meant a lot.”
Wapahani (30-4, No. 1 Class 2A) won Saturday’s game in a similar manner to its prior three victories in the postseason, by pulling out a win in a tight game. Since regionals, the Raiders have not won a game by more than four runs, and Saturday’s tilt fit that bill.
McKee logged a single on the first pitch of the game. He stole second base, then scored when Snider reached base on an error. Pitcher Zack Thompson never threw a pitch without a lead, though he never had a substantial one.
Thompson (13-0) pitched a complete-game shutout, spreading out five hits. He struck out nine and didn’t walk a batter. He occasionally lost control of some of his pitches, watching them go farther outside than he had planned. But those rare miscues never threatened to derail his overall outing.
Thompson retired Mater Dei (24-10, No. 7 Class 2A) 1-2-3 in the seventh inning, so he never allowed the tying run to come to the plate.
“It’s great for moral support,” Thompson said.
Retiring his foes in a 1-2-3 fashion also left Will LaRue, the Wildcats’ threatening leadoff hitter, in the on deck circle when the game ended on a called third strike. Thompson said he stayed relaxed and approached that seventh inning the way he approaches other innings.
“When he has any kind of lead, it’s huge,” McKee said. “Because once he settles down, he’s money.”
Wapahani’s second run came in the fourth inning, when Hayden Castor hit a double to drive in Jared Coats, who was running for Austin White. White was one of three players to log multiple hits for the Raiders, the others being McKee and Castor.
Wapahani had a total of eight hits for the game, with Drew Brant and Jacob Walters coming up with the two others.
For Snider, a particularly special moment during the aftermath came when he saw Brian Dudley holding the state championship trophy.
“It was awesome, when we saw him hold up that trophy, we got emotional a little bit,” Snider said. “Because we knew he deserved it.”