ANDERSON — Madison County Elite head coach Curtis Chapman was already surprised his team had made it this far. Sunday, Chapman’s all-star team had narrowly beaten the Noblesville Gold team, the team he felt was the one to beat in the Babe Ruth 16-18 State Tournament, 7-3 in a nine-inning thriller to advance to the championship game against the Elwood Seniors.
Then, Chapman found out his No. 1 pitcher, Zach Sanderson, wouldn’t be able to pitch in Tuesday night’s championship game due to a work conflict. After the top of the second inning against Elwood, his team was down 5-0.
Chapman, a normally boisterous coach by his own description, said he knew that with enough time, his team would come out firing on all cylinders.
It didn’t disappoint. With three runs in the bottom of the second inning, followed by four more in the fourth, the Madison County Elite never looked back, taking the championship game 9-5 and moving on to the Ohio Valley Regional held in Chesterton, beginning July 17.
Without Sanderson on the mound, Chapman had to rely on Conner Johnson in the first few innings to get things going. Normally the team’s middle reliever, Johnson was managing to throw strikes, but Elwood was just connecting with the right pitches to create singles and move guys around the bases.
“He threw strikes, but they hit the ball,” Chapman said. “We made some errors in that first inning that we normally don’t make, and that’s what got them on top.
“I’m usually yelling, but I laid back and let them get back into the groove, and then we were rolling.”
After Elwood scored three runs through the middle of the second inning, Chapman felt like it was time for a change on the mound, subbing in Caleb York, who the Madison County head coach said had always been a reliable pitcher.
The Seniors still managed two more runs before York was able to get the final two outs of the inning, but in the bottom of the second, the Elite bats found their rhythm.
After zero hits in the first and only two base runners — one of which got thrown out stealing third base — Madison County managed four hits, including RBIs from York, TJ Eads and Jarrett Simon to shrink Elwood’s lead to just two runs.
After a scoreless inning from both teams in the third, the Elite found its power at the plate again, scoring four more runs to take the lead for good with RBIs from three different players: Eddie Boner, Jon Griffey and Drew Laughlin.
The Elite’s burst of runs in the fourth forced Elwood head coach Clifford Hoskins to make a pitching change, sending in Kameron Douglas to replace Brandon Hartman, who gave up four walks and a single in the fourth before getting pulled.
But with York on the mound throwing strikes and getting support from his defense, Elwood could hardly get a runner on base, advancing runners only on two walks, two errors and a hit-by-pitch in the last five innings.
Chapman said he knew, after going into extra innings against Noblesville just two days before, that his team’s four-run lead going into the top of the seventh inning wouldn’t be safe until one of his players squeezed the final out.
Douglas came up to the plate with two outs in the top of the seventh, but just as he couldn’t manage to put a halt to the Elite’s offensive firepower from the mound, he couldn’t extend Elwood’s rally either, flying out to left field to end the game.
Chapman said he was proud of how his team battled in the face of a five-run deficit, especially so early in such an important game against a familiar opponent.
“I knew it was going to be a battle,” he said. “We’ve been playing these guys for three or four years. They’re a tough team. We started out pretty weak, but I had confidence in my guys.
“It was just a tough battle.”