ANDERSON — It’s hard to look at the Class 2A regional bracket in Wabash today and not dream a little about a potential all-Madison County final.
Alexandria (19-12) and Lapel (12-12) seem to be playing their best baseball at the best possible time. Their respective head coaches, Jeff Closser and Brad Lantz, are good friends who often text one another, and both programs have been building toward this moment for the past couple of years.
“We’ve got some very good talent in Madison County,” said Closser, whose son J.D. was named Indiana’s Mr. Baseball in 1998. “If both of us make it to the finals in the regional championship game, how much fun would that be?”
There’s no denying the fun factor, but the path to an all-county regional final is not an easy one.
Closser’s Tigers open tournament play at 11 a.m. against sixth-ranked Delphi (22-6), and Lapel follows at approximately 1 p.m. against No. 1-ranked Northfield (26-3).
The winners will meet at 8 p.m. for a regional title and a spot in next week’s semistate in Kokomo or South Bend.
Neither team is downplaying the challenge ahead, but they’re not about to shrink away from it, either.
“It’s a huge challenge, but our guys are ready for it,” Lantz said. “We know we’re way better than that 12-12 record. We lost a lot of games late in the game. But over the last couple of weeks, we’re playing much better and we’re closing out games.”
The Bulldogs are coming off impressive wins against Wapahani (by a score of 10-3) and Frankton (6-3) in the sectional, and they understand the nature of baseball puts them on solid ground even against top-ranked Northfield.
Ace Adam Taylor is 4-2 with a 1.53 ERA, and Lapel has five regulars batting above .320. Senior Jacob Troxell leads the way with a .432 average and is second on the team with 22 RBIs.
Sophomore Brady Cherry is hitting .390 with a team-high five homers and 23 RBIs, and the Bulldogs also will send Taylor (.342, 0, 15), Cade Luker (.327, 0, 10) and Nolan Clark (.360, 1, 11) to the plate.
Junior Dane Mason’s average dipped to .250 this season, but he’s second on the team with two homers and third with 16 RBIs.
“We have more than a chance,” Lantz said of competing with Northfield. “Our guys are confident we can go in and win the game.”
Alexandria, meanwhile, is making its first regional appearance since the 1998 team won the Class 3A state championship.
The Tigers have won seven of their past eight games and will send dominant ace Blaize Kelly (8-0, 0.67 ERA) to the mound in today’s opener.
Alexandria’s potent offense boasts six regulars hitting .314 or better, led by sophomore Owen Young at .398. Young also is tied for third on the team with one home run and 20 RBIs.
Senior Derek Dinehart (.379, 4, 28) provides the power, and the Tigers also have dangerous bats in Jake Fox (.330, 0, 15), Jessie Gossett (.344, 0, 11), Donnie Dinehart (.360, 2, 20) and Isaac Mitchell (.314, 0, 16).
Closser got a chance to watch Delphi in Wednesday’s sectional championship game, and he understands what Alexandria is up against.
“They’re definitely a solid team,” he said. “They’ve got a great program, and they do things the right way. But I think we’re peaking at the right time, and we’re confident if we play our game we can win.”