This didn’t seem like the team to break the streak.
In the past decade and a half, New Castle has fielded plenty of strong baseball teams. The past few seasons were quite stout with top 10 MLB draft pick Trey Ball, and a litany of other stalwart players.
This year’s outfit took much of the season to find itself after losing 10 of its 25 games before the tournament. Twice in the past couple weeks, it fell into situations that should by all rights have ended its season.
And yet here are the Trojans, owners of a sectional trophy for the first time since the first Clinton administration.
“It’s been incredible, the character of this group, the no-quit attitude,” New Castle coach Brad King said. “They continue to plug away and stay together.”
So now the question comes, what’s next?
That’s what New Castle will find out when it takes the field at noon today in the Class 4A Avon Regional against Terre Haute North Vigo. This crew seems motlier than some past outfits, but it has come through a lot.
King has enough tenure to remember the 1996 sectional title team (he’s been head coach for 12 years, assistant for seven more and played on the 1988 sectional champion). But when the multiclass system came, the Trojans were no longer the big school in a sectional with smaller ones.
Instead there was perennially-strong Yorktown and New Palestine when they were in 3A and Anderson, Connersville and Pendleton Heights in 4A. It wasn’t as if New Castle’s teams did poorly year-in and year-out, but each season ended early in the tournament and the streak just grew.
“It’s a tough field every year,” said King, noting teams rarely compiled long runs of titles.
New Castle teams in 2012 and 2013 had the potential to break through, posting 20 wins each year. Ball and Michael Bear were a fearsome 1-2 combination on the mound and the lineups had strong hitters. But each postseason ended with an early loss.
And after the departure of Ball and Bear, the team didn’t appear to be much of a contender.
At the end of April, the Trojans sat at 5-6. By season’s end, they had thrown 10 different pitchers looking for the right combination. The offense only has a smattering of hitters batting better than .300.
King said they started coming together in that second half. Grant Malott (2-3, 4.08 ERA), Nick Jones (5-0, 2.71) and freshman Garrett Welch emerged as anchors of the rotation, while Zak Kellogg (.477 average, nine doubles) and Kenny Martin (.407, two home runs) have been keys to the lineup.
It was enough for a solid finish, but twice the Trojans faced long odds in the postseason. They trailed 7-0 to Anderson in the bottom of the sixth, rallied, went down 10-4, rallied again and finally won 11-10 in extra innings. They pounded out 15 hits in the final three innings.
They again fell behind 7-0 to Richmond and started mounting a rally before rain suspended the game for a day. That didn’t break the Trojans (18-10), as they rallied to within a run when the game resumed and Kellogg’s solo shot along with a pair of Jared Heard home runs eventually brought New Castle its trophy.
“We were down 7-0 in two games and at no point did they ever get fazed by that,” King said.
In the middle of the week, King mused his team sits only two wins from a third year in a row with 20, but the challenge ahead is large. Terre Haute North (22-7) boasts possibly the best hitter in the state, a sophomore in T.J. Collett with a .560 average and a state-leading 17 home runs. Should the Trojans overcome the Patriots, they’ll likely face No. 1 Cathedral for a berth in a semistate.
It’s just another challenge ahead on this wild ride for a team that doesn’t cut the image of a streak-breaker, but it hardly seems to matter.
“I told these guys going into sectional this year, we’re kind of under the radar because nobody looks at us and sees that marquee name,” King said.
“The attitude that I told them they need to take is, ‘Hey, we’re under the radar, let’s go get it. Let’s go take this thing.’ “