By ADAM PRUIETT
FLOYDS KNOBS —
For an American Legion program still in the early stage of its existence, Floyd Knobs Post 42 sure isn’t having any trouble filling its trophy case.
More hardware was added Sunday afternoon at Floyd Central’s Highlander Field, as Post 42 captured its second consecutive sectional championship and third in four years with an 8-2 win over Madison Post 9.
“The past two years we’ve been able to pretty much dominant the area in the sectional,” North Harrison graduate and current Southeastern Illinois player Collin Book said. “It’s on a rise and that’s a credit to Coach [Ricky] Romans and [general manager/assistant coach Jamie] Knight. This is their baby and they’re building it up fast. We’re wanting to be one of those elite Legion squads.”
Along with sectional titles this season and in 2012, Floyd Knobs (24-6) won the championship in 2010, making for three in the six-year lifespan of the program. The top two teams from the sectional advance to regional play in Terre Haute, so Madison (11-11) secured a spot alongside Floyd Knobs.
“When we first started one of our goals, obviously, was to be the type of team that people would have to reckon with, so to speak,” Romans said. “It is nice to be piecing together an organization that kids, number one, want to play in. We are winning some games and moving forward and becoming a true program. It’s what we hoped for, and obviously we want bigger and better things ahead.”
Floyd Knobs went 3-0 in the tournament, bookending wins over Madison with a victory over Seymour. Sunday’s triumph was something of a grind, as Floyd Knobs went hitless through three innings but took advantage of Madison wildness on the mound to gain an early lead before a breakthrough fourth, all in unison with a strong outing by North Harrison grad and starting pitcher Tyler Cockerham.
Floyd Knobs scored twice in the first inning without the benefit of a hit. Madison starter Ethan Leach struggled to find the strike zone and walked four batters while hitting another. After a leadoff walk to North Harrison grad and IU Southeast player Josh Wenning, Leach issued two-out free passes to Floyd Central grad Jacob Snodgrass, Clarksville grad and St. Catherine player Drew Kissel and Floyd Central junior Kyle Beach before plunking Charlestown junior Ryan Jones. Beach and Jones collected RBIs.
Madison cut the lead in half in the second inning when McKenzie Whitherd pounded a triple to right center and scored on a single by Kyle Daughtery.
Madison threatened to tie the game in the third before Cockerham and second baseman Wenning teamed up for the key defensive play of the game. Madison had runners on first and second with no outs after Brad Sims’ single and Xavier Barnes’ walk when Cockerham wheeled to second and fired to Wenning, who applied the tag on Sims for a successful pickoff attempt. Madison wouldn’t score in the inning.
“Me and Josh have been working on pickoffs quite a bit in practices,” Cockerham said. “Having that in our arsenal is a big deal. I think that was the turning point of the game. It really helped.”
After failing to record a hit over the first three innings, Floyd Knobs posted three in a three-run fourth that pushed its lead to 5-1. Jones got the team in the hit column when he chopped a ball over third base for a single.
Leach continued to have control problems, walking Floyd Central grads Kyle Neafus and Cody Saunderhaus to load the bases. With one out, Floyd Central grad Derek DeSpain lined an RBI single to left field and Book drove in two more with a single through the left side.
“Lately, that’s how it’s been — unfortunately. We’d like to get up big in the first couple innings,” Book said. “Today it took us almost two times through the lineup to get going. I guess we just got used to that [Leach] and finally cracked him and got on a roll.”
There was a lengthy delay before the fifth inning as one of the umpires needed to get treated for heat-related issues. The break in action initially seemed to bother Cockerham, who began the inning with consecutive walks, but he induced a double play and no damage was done.
“I was a little bit tight,” Cockerham admitted.
Cockerham improved his record to 5-0 in Legion play. The right-hander allowed two runs on six hits with three walks and two strikeouts in seven innings while Leach, his counterpart, left with two outs in the third inning after yielding five runs on three hits and eight walks in taking the loss.
The distance between the two teams increased in the fifth after Floyd Knobs scored three more runs for an 8-1 lead. Jones, Neafus, Wenning and Book all singled while DeSpain added a successful squeeze bunt.
“The second and third inning we didn’t do anything, but from there we put the bat on the ball,” Neafus said. “They walked a couple guys and, whenever we really needed it, we put the ball in the gaps and runs on the board.”
In the fifth, Floyd Knobs had a bunt single, sacrifice bunt and squeeze play all bring favorable results.
“Moving into next week [at regionals], something we’re going to have to do is play more small ball,” Romans said. “We’re going to have bunt, execute and move guys over. We did that a little bit better today, and that’s good to see us do that in a game of this magnitude moving into Terre Haute.”
After getting Madison on the board in the second, Daughtery drove in the team’s second run when he led off the seventh with a home run to left field to make it 8-2. He had two hits along with teammates Leach, Whitherd and Treavor Tutterow.
All 11 of Floyd Knobs’ hits were singles. Book and Neafus had three apiece while Jones added two and two steals. Book had three RBI, Kissel walked three times and Wenning scored three runs and had two steals.
Charlestown junior Drew Reich pitched a scoreless eighth for Floyd Knobs and Floyd Central grad Garrett Ruttle entered with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth and induced a game-ending ground ball to sew up a win that saw Floyd Knobs turn three double plays and complete a busy afternoon in particular for Snodgrass at third base.
After the victory, Floyd Knobs looked forward, both in the short and long term.
“All that’s on our mind right now — we looking for some food after the game because we’re a little hungry,” Neafus said with a wide smile, “and then we’re looking forward to the nice trip to Terre Haute [for the regionals] and taking it one game at a time.”
Added Cockerham: “I think we have the potential to go really far.”