By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
PENDLETON, Ind. —
For four innings Monday, Shenandoah ace Clint Nation kept the Nick Muller Memorial Baseball Tournament champions in check.
But the Raiders gave up an inch in the fifth inning, and Pendleton Heights took a mile — scoring five unearned runs and rallying for a 5-1 victory at the soon-to-be-rededicated Field of Dreams.
It was the Arabians’ sixth straight victory, but coach Travis Keesling’s postgame mood did not match the rare warm and sunny weather.
“It was a disappointing performance,” Keesling said. “How can you not be excited to come out and play baseball on a day like this?”
Nation had allowed just six hits in seven innings entering the contest, but he’d also walked five batters and sported a 7.00 ERA.
Against the Arabians (7-2), he looked like the ace coach Jack Lewis expects him to be. He allowed just three baserunners through the first four innings, with Pendleton Heights’ only hit coming on a single by sophomore Thomas Hall to lead off the bottom of the first.
But trouble started early in the fifth.
Shenandoah center fielder Trevor Conner made a long run to track down Noah Etchison’s deep flyball but couldn’t pull it in, allowing the opposing catcher to reach to start the inning. Nation got the next batter to pop out to the catcher before allowing just his second hit of the game — a single to No. 9 hitter Augdon Wilson.
Then things became truly interesting.
Hall hit a high pop fly that Raiders third baseman Hunter Farley camped under near the foul line and well in front of the bag. The umpire signaled the batter was out because of the infield fly rule, but none of the players on the field seemed to take notice.
Farley dropped the ball, and the Arabians’ runners took off for second and third. Believing there was only one out, and that Hall was still alive on the play, the Raiders (2-7) attempted to make a force play at third and then throw to second for the double play.
But Etchison instead was called safe at third because he hadn’t been tagged, and Pendleton Heights suddenly had two runners in scoring position with two outs.
Nation then went to a 3-0 count against Kurt Talbert before ceding the fourth pitch and allowing an intentional walk to load the bases.
That brought senior Hunter Cook to the plate. He’d entered the game as a defensive replacement in the third inning and struck out in his previous at-bat.
This time, Cook laced a single into the left-center field gap, scoring two runs and giving the Arabians the lead.
“It was real nice,” Cook, who has had a penchant for clutch hitting on the young season, said. “Being down for four innings, coming in and getting the big hit, it felt real nice.”
Senior Brogan Gary kept the pressure on, doubling to the same gap and putting two more runs on the scoreboard. Senior Cody Altherr followed with an RBI single to score Gary and chase Nation from the game.
“Sometimes you come out and think the other team is just going to give you a win when you walk on the field,” Keesling said, explaining his team’s early lethargy. “But Shenandoah is a well-coached team, and I knew that wasn’t going to be the case with them. I kept trying to get that across to my team.”
Keesling said it felt like the Arabians were in quicksand during the early innings. The harder they pressed, the deeper they sunk into the abyss.
Shenandoah took the lead in the top of the first without the benefit of a hit. Pendleton Heights starter Justin Kirkpatrick issued a pair of walks and watched the unearned run score on an error.
Kirkpatrick quickly settled down, allowing a leadoff double in the second and then retiring nine of the final 10 batters he faced. The final out in the fourth came with Talbert making a spectacular diving catch running in from center field to end the inning with a runner on third base.
Austin MacMillan picked up the win in relief, allowing just one hit batsman over the final three innings.
Pendleton Heights travels to New Castle on Wednesday then returns home Friday for a doubleheader with Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Rushville. The Field of Dreams will be rededicated in honor of former Arabians coach Bill Stoudt between games of the twinbill, adding to an important evening.
“Really, this is just preparation for Friday night,” Cook said of Monday’s win. “We’re after a conference title.”