KOKOMO — Junior Brennan Morehead pitched another gem Saturday, and the Alexandria defense played a flawless game in the field.
But the Tigers really won the Class 2A North Semistate at Kokomo Municipal Stadium on the basepaths. And that was particularly evident during a crucial fifth-inning rally.
Leading 2-0 entering the frame, Alexandria tacked on three runs with the benefit of just a single hit and paved the way for the 9-0 victory against Whiting.
“Coach has preached all year that most of us (have the) greenlight so that means we can do whatever we want on the basepaths,” junior center fielder Cade Vernetti said. “We just have to use our instincts, and we like to get in the pitcher’s head. That’s what we do. It just works.”
Vernetti got things started in the climactic fifth after being hit by the inning's second pitch. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and watched as senior shortstop Trey Stokes drew a five-pitch walk.
Junior second baseman Kole Stewart laid down a sacrifice bunt in an attempt to move both runners into scoring position. Oilers pitcher Aidan Plemons tried to short circuit that strategy by throwing to third base, but Vernetti slid in ahead of the ball.
That loaded the bases, and Plemons was sufficiently distracted. He faked a pick-off move to Vernetti at third base and then whirled to do the same with Stewart at first. Umpires wasted little time calling the balk to force in a run.
“When I get on base, I always like to mess with the pitcher,” Vernetti said. “I know if he’s focused on me, he’s not gonna be focused on the batter, and after that he’ll throw a ball and walk people.”
Still rattled, Plemons hit Morehead to reload the bases.
It briefly looked as though Whiting would escape further damage. Junior first baseman Nick Williams smoked a line drive up the middle, but Oilers second baseman Tony Madrueno was playing at double-play depth and made the catch before jogging to tag the bag and force out Stewart.
Then the Tigers got creative.
Morehead stole second base, and Whiting catcher Daniel Canning's throw squirted away into center field. That allowed Stokes to score from third, and junior Rylan Metz capped the inning by blasting a double deep to center field that scored Morehead for a 5-0 lead.
It was a textbook display of small ball creating a big inning.
“A lot of times we don’t have to do that,” head coach Jeff Closser said of manufacturing runs. “... The pitcher (Plemons), he threw over to first base maybe two or three times. If you don’t throw over to first base on us, we’re gonna go. I don’t care what his time to home is. All we’ve gotta do is beat the pitcher.
“I thought we manufactured three or four runs today and got the bunts down when we needed to and got the bases we needed to get. Sometimes, that’s what you need to do if you want to win a game.”
Alexandria manufactured another run in the sixth when Vernetti singled with two outs, advanced to second on a wild pitch, stole third and scored when Canning's throw sailed into left field.
“We always have a green light,” Stokes said. “(Closser's) got a few guys that we have a green light to, and whenever you feel like it, you can go. But we knew their catcher had a pretty decent arm, so we had to get pretty good leads. So it worked out for us.”
Now the Tigers will get the chance to run the bases at Victory Field.
Alexandria will play for a state championship for the first time since 1998, but it's going to take some time for that fact to sink in.
The team began discussing the possibility before the season began, and the reality already is living up to the dream.
Even if this team feels it's far from finished.
“It lives up, and it expands and it exceeds it because all year we’ve been saying that we’re a state team,” Vernetti said. “Coaches always preached that we can make it here. Because they understand what we can do, and it’s just great that we actually have made it here. We’re one game away, man. We’re one game away.”