The season isn’t over for Indiana, not by any means. But the WPIAL Section 2-AAA baseball championship is likely out of the question.
Indiana squandered its best offensive chance by running into a triple play, then gave up three seventh-inning runs and lost to first-place Laurel Highlands, 4-1, on Tuesday afternoon at Keystone Rehabilitation Field.
Second-place Indiana dropped to 5-3 in the section, 7-6 overall. The Mustangs are 8-0 in the section and 10-3 overall.
“They pretty much won the section,” Indiana coach Ryan Davies said of Laurel Highlands. “It was (the section title), along with going undefeated at home, that was pretty high on our list of goals. I don’t think there’s a way we can get (the section title) now, but I told the guys I still believe in them down the stretch. We’ve got to make a playoff push now, but I still believe we have a team that can get into the playoffs and go on a run. We just have to figure it out pretty soon.”
With ace pitcher Sean Thompson on the mound, Indiana found itself in a tight battle with the section leaders. A lone unearned run was all the Mustangs got in the early going, and Indiana tied the game at 1 with Blake Shields’ bases-loaded walk in the fourth inning.
Indiana still had the bases loaded with no outs following Shields’ walk, and Laurel Highlands starter Colin McKee was on the ropes. What happened next turned the tables in the section race.
Jordan Hudzicki flew out to right field, and Davies, coaching third, had Thompson take a few steps off the base to draw a throw. The trailing runners, however, kept going, and Thompson and Shields both ended up tagged out after rundowns.
“I like to get down the line as a coach so my guy can see me,” Davies said. “I was there early enough, and it just wasn’t a deep enough fly. I like my guy at third to get a couple good steps to try to draw a throw, maybe get a wild one. We just have to watch the baserunners in front of us a little better.”
The consequences were dire.
“The triple play was the turning point of the game,” Laurel Highlands coach Scott DeBerry said. “Bases loaded, one run in, nobody out, that’s the ballgame, because when Thompson’s on the mound, you get more than one or two runs up and expect to win the ballgame.”
“Had that not happened, the game’s totally different,” Davies said. “Momentum shifts in our favor. Their pitcher was getting into trouble. It’s just kind of stuff that’s been going on all season, just not thinking, not knowing the situation. It came back to bite us. Even after that, we were in a position to win, but we have to play smarter. If you make a mistake, pick your head up, go out and make a play later. We didn’t do that.”
Indiana got a few guys on in the following innings, but never did any damage. Once Thompson was lifted after six innings, with seven strikeouts and a walk, the Mustangs broke through for three runs on three hits in the seventh.
“I considered it a playoff game,” DeBerry said. “I knew that we would see their best, and I wanted to see how our team would react to seeing somebody like (Thompson). … I knew if we could play good defense and get good pitching and stay close that maybe something would happen at the end, and that’s what happened.”
Indiana drew eight walks but got just three hits on the day.
Davies’ message going forward is this: Forget about it.
“We’ve got some good ballplayers here,” he said. “You remember the mistakes you’ve made and you learn from them, but as far as dwelling on the loss, I don’t think that serves any purpose. The best approach for these guys is water under the bridge. Get after the next one, and the more wins you can stack on top, the easier it is to forget. We’ll just turn the page and go from there.”