Hunter Stanley never dreamed he would score Wapahani’s winning run in a semistate championship baseball game. The Raider junior played on the junior varsity team this year, his first varsity start not coming until the postseason.
Despite those long odds, Stanley scored the winning run Saturday on a wild pitch as the Raiders defeated Lafayette Central Catholic 2-1 in the Class 2A Kokomo Semistate.
Wapahani pitching coach Jason Dudley, who coached the game after a pregame injury to head coach Brian Dudley, described the mood as “jubilation” when Stanley crossed the plate.
“Being seniors, we’ve worked so hard for this,” center fielder Taylor McKee said. “We’ve all played together when we were little. And finally seeing it come true, it’s pretty awesome.”
Stanley said he initially thought the ball would simply bounce right back to the catcher, but trusted the batter in the box, Luke Snider, who signaled that he would be able to score. Snider’s assessment proved to be correct.
“I knew I was going to get in there because I trust him,” Stanley said. “I knew he knew what he was talking about.”
With the victory, Class 2A No. 1 Wapahani (29-4) advances to play in the state championship game Saturday at 4 p.m. against Evansville Mater Dei, which defeated Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter in the Jasper Semistate.
Lafayette Central Catholic finished the season 27-7 and ranked No. 3 in Class 2A. The Knights won the past five state championships in Class A before being moved to Class 2A this season due to the IHSAA’s tournament success factor.
As the bottom of the seventh inning began with the score tied 1-1, Wapahani didn’t initially intend for Stanley to be the player to score the winning run. Pitcher Zack Thompson drew a leadoff walk, and bringing him around to score became the priority. Jacob Walters, the next batter, advanced Thompson to second base with a sacrifice bunt.
Stanley, who was batting ninth, came up with a single that advanced Thompson to third base. McKee was then intentionally walked to load the bases with one out.
No. 2 batter Drew Brant hit a ground ball to second base, and Thompson was thrown out at the plate for the second out. Stanley then scored on the wild pitch to win the game.
Jason Dudley said Stanley had been showing a recent production that warranted his promotion to the varsity level.
Stanley made his first varsity start in the Frankton Sectional championship game.
“He’s been putting the ball in play, just like he did today,” Jason Dudley said. “And (we) kind of ride that momentum. He’s the hot hand.”
Before Stanley scored the winning run, the Raiders benefited from a few other crucial plays in the victory. After LCC scored the game’s opening run in the first inning, McKee had an RBI single to drive in Walters to tie the score in the bottom of the third inning. McKee had another big play later in the game.
LCC had a runner on first with one out in the top of the sixth inning after a walk. That runner tried to score after two errors by the shortstop on the next at-bat, but McKee had a strong throw from center field to retire the runner and preserve the tie.
“I saw it come my way, and I just picked it up and I knew I had him,” McKee said. “So I just gave it my all.”
After allowing the run in the first inning, Thompson settled down on the mound. He pitched a complete-game three-hitter. He struck out nine batters and walked two.
The title is Wapahani’s second semistate championship in school history, with the other coming in 2004. Thompson said he attended the 2004 state championship game, when Wapahani fell to Hammond Bishop Noll.
He said that was the day he began to covet a chance to play at Victory Field himself. He will soon get that opportunity.
“It’s a great feeling,” Thompson said.