Indiana pitcher Trent Ream caught the comebacker to the mound, jogged a few steps toward first base and underhanded the ball to Zach Schultz, who recorded the final putout and jumped up and down, leading the Indians in a few seconds of subdued celebration.
Indiana had clinched at least a share of the WPIAL Section 2-AAA baseball championship with its 13-2, mercy-rule-shortened five-inning win over Uniontown on Wednesday afternoon at Keystone Rehab Field.
It was a time to both celebrate and prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.
“At the beginning of the year we made a list of goals,” Ream said. “We started with the state championship, the WPIAL championship, the section championship, and we’ll just work our way up the ladder, see how far we can get.”
Indiana (13-3, 9-2 section) can claim the section title outright with a victory at Derry on Friday.
“It’s a culmination of all our efforts that we put in throughout the year,” Indiana coach Rob Stossel said. “These guys really came together from the start and dedicated themselves to be better baseball players, and that’s the only thing you can ever ask of a team, that you see the growth there as players.”
Indiana was coming off a 10-10 campaign last year and was confident under a new coach –— even if it wasn’t necessarily a favorite around the league.
“At the beginning of the year we knew we were going to be pretty good,” junior Sean Thompson said. “It wasn’t a fluke, that we just came out of nowhere. We put a lot of work in the offseason starting back last fall. It just all came together, so it feels pretty good to finally get it.”
“We have used that as some fuel to the fire, trying to earn some respect for Indiana baseball,” Stossel said. “I think deep down these kids knew that we could have something special this season. We’re just trying to earn respect here in the section and in the WPIAL and hopefully in the state.”
Coming off an emotional 11-inning victory at Laurel Highlands on Tuesday, Indiana made quick work of Uniontown (4-11, 2-8), pushing home five runs in the third and six in the fourth to enforce the mercy rule. It was the Indiana’s ninth win in its last 10 games.
“I guess it kind of evened out,” Stossel said. “We played a couple games yesterday, really, and maybe half a game today. That’s a big thing to get out of here early, and tomorrow we can have a practice and work on some things we need to work on and just prepare for Friday.”
Jordan Hudzicki went 3-for-3, and Schultz and Ryan Creps each went 2-for-2 for Indiana. Thompson and Danny Clark scored three runs each, and Thompson and Ream added two hits each. Ream struck out three and walked two in five innings for the win.
“You just save up on innings, save up on pitch counts, get in, get out, do what you need to do,” Ream said.
“That was definitely one of our priorities today, to put them away early,” Thompson said. “We were pretty tired. We played 11 innings yesterday, so it felt good to get on top of them and have a good lead on them.”
Indiana last won a section championship in 2004.
“That means a lot,” Ream said, “because we have that sign over there, and we haven’t won the section in nine years.”
“I keep saying, we’ve got to play at the next level now,” Stossel said. “We’ve got a share of the section championship, we’d like to win it outright Friday, but we want to play. I told them out there in the huddle, we’ve got at least another month, guys. If you’re committed and keep working, you never know.”