By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Taylor Rogers took a long look at the Nick Muller Memorial Baseball Tournament MVP plaque after receiving it Sunday during the annual post-tournament banquet at The Edgewood golf and dining club.
It’s a view many Pendleton Heights stars have enjoyed before him.
With an 8-1 victory in the championship game against Anderson last weekend, the Arabians extended their Muller record to five tournament titles. On Sunday, Rogers’ election as Most Valuable Player made Pendleton Heights the first team to win that award four times.
Ethan Wilson was the first Arabian to claim the prize in 2006. He later was joined by Sean Collins (2008) and Zach Dowden (2011). Rogers’ honor breaks a tie between Pendleton Heights and Highland, which also had three tournament MVPs.
The Arabians’ most recent winner might also be the least expected. He’s spent the past two seasons on the varsity without much opportunity to prove himself on the mound.
After a two-hit, six-strikeout performance against the high-powered Indians, however, Rogers won’t be sneaking up on anyone the rest of the season.
“I felt like I was ready last year,” Rogers said Sunday. “Maybe not. But to be able to come out and prove it this year was nice.”
Rogers’ rise is emblematic of his team.
Pendleton Heights is filled with new faces after losing a large senior class to graduation and watching head coach Bill Stoudt step down last summer after 32 years in charge of the program.
Just as Rogers is proving he’s capable of carrying on the Arabians’ long-standing tradition of excellence on the pitching mound — he also threw a five-inning shutout in Pendleton Heights’ first-round dismantling of Madison-Grant — the team is proving it can stand up to the program’s high expectations.
“I think (senior) Brogan (Gary) put it best,” new Arabians coach Travis Keesling said. “We’re trying to tell people who we are. We did lose a lot from last year, but these guys have just been biding their time waiting in the wings.”
It’s likely no one’s wait felt longer than Rogers’.
He served his time behind stars like Dowden and Mitch Patishall — who is currently pitching at the University of Cincinnati — and has wasted little time taking advantage of his first extended opportunity.
The senior’s early success is not a surprise to Keesling, who said confidence has been the biggest change in Rogers’ game.
“You saw it in the championship game, and we’re seeing it game-by-game,” Keesling said.
In four appearances this season, Rogers already has thrown two complete games. He’s 3-0 overall and has pitched to a 1.09 ERA in 19 1/3 innings with 15 strikeouts and just 12 hits allowed.
He and fellow senior Cody Altherr (1-1, 1.70 ERA) give the Arabians a strong 1-2 punch atop the rotation.
Pendleton Heights (6-2) has responded with five straight victories, including an 8-2 decision against Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Delta on Saturday. The Arabians host Shenandoah today and travel to New Castle on Wednesday before holding another celebration Friday.
On that evening, Pendleton Heights’ Field of Dreams officially will be renamed in honor of Stoudt in between games of a doubleheader against HHC rival Rushville.
Fittingly, the Arabians have been winning in exactly the same fashion Stoudt espoused — with strong pitching, solid defense and an opportunistic offense.
“That’s what’s worked for us this year,” Keesling said. “We’re not a team that’s going to hit a lot of home runs. Pitching and defense is what wins baseball games.”
The Arabians’ three wins in the Muller tournament helped them silence some of their early doubters. But it’s just a start.
Pendleton Heights has designs on winning the HHC crown and adding a sectional championship to their hardware haul in late May.
So, while Rogers was rightfully proud of his team’s early success Sunday, he’s already looking ahead.
“Coach Keesling is always talking about the next 200 feet,” Rogers said. “We’re trying to move on from that (Muller title) and move on to the next goal.”