Hard to believe but another high school baseball season has come and gone.
And what a season it was!
Any conversation about the season just concluded almost certainly has to begin with the White River Valley Wolverines.
As everyone in the living, breathing world knows by now, WRV won the Class A Sectional 57 championship on Memorial Day. The amazing story though is how they did it.
I liken WRV’s sectional triumph to the Miracle Mets of 1969. The Amazin’ Mets, they were called.
Everyone of a certain age remembers those ‘69 Mets coming from 10 games behind the Chicago Cubs in mid-August - another set of “lovable losers” - overtaking the Cubs and going on to win the World Series.
Prior to 1969, the Mets had never had a winning season since the franchise’s inception in 1962. But they didn’t lose all 162 games during the season.
Unlike WRV. The Wolverines lost all 18 regular season games this season.
And they came seemingly out of nowhere to win the school’s first-ever baseball sectional crown.
WRV knocked off the Clay City Eels 9-4 in the sectional semifinal and survived a seventh-inning North Central rally to defeat the Thunderbirds 5-4 in the sectional championship.
North Central had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the seventh when shortstop Blaine Patterson snagged a line drive and then doubled the runner off third to preserve the win.
The Eels and Thunderbirds had both beaten the Wolverines by the 10-run rule during the regular season. But as they say, anything can happen in the postseason.
WRV was clearly bolstered by the healthy return of ace pitcher Brayton Cornelius. As teammate Skyler Sipes said in an interview with The Indianapolis Star, “Brayton gives us someone who can throw strikes and strike people out.”
The junior southpaw entered the season as WRV’s clear-cut No. 1 pitcher, as he was the previous year when the Wolverines enjoyed the winningest season in school history winning 15 games.
But before this season began he was diagnosed with an ulnar collateral ligament tear in his pitching elbow. Ligament replacement surgery - commonly known as “Tommy John” surgery - seemed the likely treatment option.
A second opinion revealed an overuse injury. And with rest and time off from throwing Cornelius was able to return to the mound just in time.
He wasn’t quite 100 percent. But he was healthy enough to be effective.
If WRV was ever to win a sectional title, last year seemingly would have been the year. But the Wolverines’ best-ever season to that point ended with a disappointing 4-3 loss to Clay City in the sectional.
In a game of bizarre twists and turns, WRV had a third-inning run disallowed on a controversial call.
Then with two outs in WRV’s last chance at the plate Brayton’s older brother Hunter Cornelius took Clay City ace Hunter Wolfe deep for a solo shot to cut the lead to 4-3. Wolfe is now pitching for Purdue and doing satisfactorily, I understand.
But it would be all the Wolverines would get.
As coach Chris Cornelius said in the same Indy Star interview with reporter Kyle Neddenriep, “If we were going to win a sectional, last year was probably our year. We didn’t.”
Coach Cornelius retired after last season to have an opportunity to watch son Hunter play collegiately at Anderson University.
Hunter by the way smacked a homer against Rose Hulman that was shown on WTHI-10 sports highlights this spring.
Six seniors graduated from the 2016 team.
Two subsequent coaching hires didn’t pan out so Chris was summoned back to the helm this season.
Fast forward to 2017 and the unlikely sectional championship.
In all honesty it was a wide-open sectional and all five teams in the field seemingly had a shot at winning. But it was the Wolverines who ultimately prevailed.
At Saturday’s Morristown Regional I was working alongside the fellow ink-stained wretch who covers the Rising Sun Shiners for the local paper in that far-flung corner of the state.
He mentioned Rising Sun’s coach had requested, “Don’t put in the paper that they (WRV) have only won two games! Our kids will get overconfident.”
Then the story in the Indianapolis Star came out. Which was a great story by the way. And it was incredibly nice to see the Wolverines get some statewide recognition.
WTHR-13 in Indianapolis also ran a brief segment on the Wolverines during its 6 p.m. sports broadcast.
And I have to wonder if maybe Rising Sun did underestimate WRV a little bit in the early going.
The Wolverines had the Shiners back on their heels with WRV leading 2-1 headed to the bottom of the fourth inning.
WRV wound up on the short end of a 7-2 score.
But as coach Cornelius said afterward, “We’re going to hang our heads high that we were the first-ever sectional champions in school history.”
Oh yeah, we had another sectional champion - the Linton Miners.
Unlike WRV, Linton was supposed to win its sectional. And they did in workmanlike fashion, beating the Shakamak Lakers 7-0 in the early session and crowning themselves sectional champs with a 10-1 win over Eastern Greene in the nightcap at Mitchell.
As Jim Gordillo from the Bloomington Herald Times wrote, “Linton loses the drama, still wins the sectional.”
Gordillo was of course referring to the 2016 sectional at Linton.
Trailing 7-5 in the seventh inning, Shakamak had the bases loaded with two outs when second baseman Trey Passen made a diving grab of Mason Wood’s liner for the final out.
This time, Passen was on the mound, mopping up the end of the sectional championship game against Eastern.
It was Linton’s sixth sectional championship in the last eight years.
Unfortunately, South Spencer ended the Miners’ season at the Providence Regional.
The South Spencer Rebels broke open a 2-1 ballgame with four runs in the fifth inning on the way to an 8-1 win.
Baserunning errors by the Miners and timely hitting on the part of the Rebels led to Linton’s demise.
Last year the Miners had defeated the defending 2A state champion Rebels 1-0 in the same regional final. So you can bet South Spencer was bound and determined not to let that happen again.
This postseason had brought high hopes for the Miners. After all, they were facing a regional opponent in South Spencer who they had beaten the previous year.
And having watched this Linton team all year, the Miners were better than they were a season ago.
Nearly everyone returned from last year’s regional finalist team, plus the addition of promising freshman Kip Fougerousse.
Three Miners batted over .400 this season. Kendall Williams led the team with a .447 batting average and five homers. Fougerousse hit .438 and ace pitcher Logan Hollingsworth batted .429.
Pitchers Noah Woodward, Cory Anderson and Passen all stepped up in support of Hollingsworth - especially important this year given the new pitch count rule.
They were just in a tough regional. South Spencer showed why they were the third-ranked team in 2A baseball. And the Rebels lost 3-1 to second-ranked Providence in the regional final.
One thing that really stood out to me about the Miners this year was their play in the field.
Nearly every opposing coach I talked to remarked how Linton consistently hit the ball up and down the lineup. Which they did.
But I think it was their fielding that set them apart.
The infielders and outfielders made all the routine plays you’re supposed to make. And they made the tough plays look routine. Every one of Linton’s infielders had a gun for an arm.
I’ve always thought you can tell a lot about a team by how good it looks when they’re taking infield before a game. And I’m telling you the Miners approached infield like it was a real game. Every throw was a bullet right on line.
I’ll never forget Kip Fougerousse’s web gem at North Daviess. The freshman made a diving snag of a hot smash down the third baseline, scrambled to his feet and threw a dart to first across the diamond.
You know, of all the sports I cover, I think baseball’s my favorite.
Ironic, considering all the sports I played growing up, baseball was my worst sport.
But I love the game. And I always have.
The first major league game I ever attended in person, Willie Mays hit a home run against the St. Louis Cardinals at the then-new Busch Memorial Stadium. And I was smitten. That was in 1967.
I know, we have Miner football. And yes, the Miners winning the state championship at Lucas Oil Stadium last fall is likely the biggest thrill I’ll experience in my sportswriting gig.
And the last couple years, Eastern football’s been pretty exciting too.
High school basketball, well, it’s practically a religion in Indiana.
But there’s just something about baseball.
When I’m covering football and basketball, I’m too busy keeping track of stats and play-by-play to really even “watch” the game.
Not so with baseball. The game moves at a much more leisurely pace. There’s no clock, and I have plenty of time between pitches to snap photos.
And I think the timeless element is what I most appreciate. There’s a reason baseball was once called our “National Pastime” - back when people used words like “pastime.”
As the late broadcaster Harry Caray used to say, “You can’t beat fun at the old ballpark.”
With that, I give you my “best of the best.”
Well duh. It’s Victory Field in Indianapolis. Home of the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians and the IHSAA State Finals.
One thing the IHSAA gets right: They play State Finals at the venues the pros play. It gives the kids an experience of a lifetime.
That being said though, the best high school field I’ve been to is Alvin C. Ruxer Field in Jasper.
Everything about Ruxer Field is big-league. The manicured field, the seating, the press box, everything.
And of course a road trip to Jasper entails a side trip to the Schnitzelbank Restaurant...but…save room for a brat because…
Jasper, of course. Jasper is a German-American community. Germans do brats.
North Daviess and Linton serve up a pretty good brat too.
Mitchell. Hands down.
Every ballpark I’ve been to serves up a pretty good cheeseburger. But the burgers at Mitchell are a little bit thicker and have a little more of that flame-grilled taste than the rest.
Best hot dogs: Eastern Greene. Big fat thick dogs and Mike Prince cooks ‘em up perfect.
Linton is a close second. Very close.
Sleeper: The hot dogs at Shakamak. Tastiest dogs around. They’re small dogs though, so get two if you’re hungry. Better yet, get one with cheese!
Best ballpark music:
Linton. Where else can you hear Alice in Chains’ “Man in the Box?”
As much as I like Bruce Springsteen and John Fogarty, there’s only so many times I can listen to “Glory Days” and “Centerfield.”
Best place to cover a game (if you’re a sportswriter):
It depends. If you’re shooting photos, it’s Linton. You can stand inside the first-base dugout and get great sightlines.
If you’re a press-box guy, it’s a tossup between Ruxer Field in Jasper or Wayne Davis Field at North Daviess.
Best place to watch a game:
Bloomfield. I love this old-school ballpark. The short porch in right field, the low cinder block wall between the dugouts painted in Cardinal red, the upslope behind the third-base dugout which makes for an excellent tailgating/viewing perch, the press box where every foul tip resonates with an auditory “thud” against the backstop - not to mention the Voice of the Cardinals Heath Bartlett...it all makes for an excellent baseball viewing experience.
Best baseball/softball complex:
White River Valley. The baseball and softball fields are adjacent, with the building housing the concessions and restrooms right in between the two. Well planned and very convenient.
Now for a couple of my pet peeves:
Scoreboards that face west -- It doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles a scoreboard has if it faces toward the setting sun. What good is it if you can’t even see the numbers on the board late in the afternoon or early in the evening?
Inadequate restroom facilities -- Restrooms need to be located somewhere near home plate and there needs to be more than a one-stall unit. Enough said.
Especially if you want to host a sectional.
And with another season in the books the Greene County Daily World will be selecting its All-Area baseball team - possibly as early as next week if we get all the statistics together.
We had some mighty fine baseball players in the area so it should be a good roster.
Terry Schwinghammer is a sports writer for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at (812) 847-4487, ext. 27. He can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.