By GREG MENGELT
Although the Plainfield High School scoreboard didn’t reflect it, Jeffersonville first-year manager Derek Ellis is certain of it: His Red Devils were the better at Saturday’s Class 4A Plainfield Semistate.
Cathedral took advantage of two poorly timed Jeffersonville errors and the Red Devils’ lack of clutch hitting to advance to Saturday’s Class 4A championship game. The unbeaten Irish (28-0) will face Elkhart Central (31-1) for the state title at Victory Field in Indianapolis.
“I hate to say it, the best team doesn’t always win. I think, from top to bottom, we were the better team," Ellis said of his team, which finished the season 23-6.
Jeff led most of the way and still held a 2-1 advantage heading into the bottom of the fifth inning.
The Irish fifth started like three of the previous four — with Jeff starter Trent Astle getting the first batter out. However, Astle walked Harry Shipley with one out, which began the Cathedral avalanche.
Luke Cureton then hit what appeared to be a double-play ball to Jeff’s All-State shortstop Drew Ellis. Ellis fielded the ball cleanly but his throw to second baseman Dallas Bott sailed into right field, putting Irish runners on second and third with one out.
After an intentional walk to Alex Boos loaded the bases with one out, Austin Sparks hit an 0-2 Astle offering into left field to score Shipley with the tying run and Cureton with the go-ahead run.
Next, McCarty singled into right field — also on an 0-2 count — and the ball bounced off the heel of Chandler Dale’s glove, allowing Boos to come home with the Irish’s third run of the frame.
“It was on me,” Astle said, taking the blame. “That was a costly walk [of Shipley]. None of it should have happened.”
Astle got Sean Sydney and Ashe Russell in order to limit the damage, but at the end of five innings, the scoreboard read Cathedral 4, Jeffersonville 2.
“The fifth inning bit us,” Derek Ellis said. “We helped them out a little bit. Drew’s probably going to beat himself up a bit. I think Chandler’s going to beat himself up.
“Those plays stuck out because those are the plays that got them the three runs, but there were a lot of things in the other innings that we didn’t do. I think there are a lot of kids who will look back and say, ‘I’d like to have that one over.’”
Jeff countered immediately in the top of the sixth. Russell walked Dale and gave way to Will Birch on the mound.
The first batter Birch faced, Nolan Fertig, single into left field to put Devils on first and second with nobody out. Birch struck out Casey Gibson and Hayden Robb in order, but Josh Burke’s single past Shipley, who was covering the second-base bag, allowed pinch runner Damin Smith to score. Jared Burke then grounded out to first base, but Jeff had cut the deficit to 4-3.
Astle retired the Irish in order in the seventh and Ellis gave the Red Devils hope with a one-out single into right field, but Birch struck out Astle looking and got Dale to fly out to the right-field warning track to end the game and begin the Cathedral celebration.
Jeff jumped on Russell, who has already verbally committed to Notre Dame as a sophomore, from the start. After Russell struck out Nick Gallagher to open the first frame, Ellis drew a walk in front of Astle. The powerful senior ripped a Russell fastball down the right-field line. As the ball rolled to the base of the 310-foot sign, Ellis raced around third and scored standing up to give the Red Devils an early 1-0 advantage.
“Our guys were ready,” Derek Ellis said. “We were prepared.”
Russell stranded Astle at second by striking out Chandler Dale and Nolan Fertig in order.
Astle retired the first two batters in the bottom of the first before Cureton hit a seemingly easy fly ball into right field. Dale lost the ball in the sun and it landed just to his left. Cureton hustled out of the box and wound up on second with a gift double. However, Astle got Boos to fly out to Robb in center field to end the threat.
Gallagher opened the third inning with a walk, and Ellis followed with a single off of his hands that sailed over the head of Boos at second base, moving Gallagher to third. Astle’s fielder’s choice ground ball scored Gallagher for his second RBI and a 2-0 cushion.
“You never feel comfortable, but we were sitting pretty and I like to pitch with the lead,” Astle said.
“We felt good about [the 2-0 lead], but in the back of your mind, you know you have a 27-0 team over there that’s capable of putting up a big inning.”
Astle walked Birch — the Irish nine-hole hitter — on four pitches to start the Irish half of the third. Astle got Brendan Flood to fly out for the first out and he struck out Shipley looking, limiting the damage of Cureton’s two-out single. Boos grounded a two-strike offering to Josh Burke at third base to dash the Irish hopes of breaking through.
Gibson began the Jeff half of the fourth with a bloop single into right field, but Russell got Robb, whose sacrifice bunt attempt was popped up for an easy out, Josh Burke and Jared Burke in order to keep the Jeff lead at two runs.
“You have to execute,” Derek Ellis said. “We’ve always preached that if you don’t execute, you get executed. We also had kids who struck out in big situations. You’ve got to find a way to put the ball in play.”
Astle got the first two Cathedral batters out in the fourth, including his third strikeout, before facing Sydney with two outs. A 2-2 curve ball had Sydney convinced that he had struck out and he started to walk back to the dugout before homeplate umpire Tim Born called the pitch a ball. Astle’s 3-2 pitch was close, as well, but it was called ball four. After a wild pitch moved Sydney to second base, a Russell double got the Irish on the board at 2-1.
“[Some] pitches from our vantage point looked good,” Derek Ellis said. “[The umpires] are human. We can sit here and complain and moan about it, but it’s not going to do anybody any good. It’s baseball and we’re all human.”
Astle gave up just six hits, and only two runs against him were earned. He struck out three Irish batters. His 17-inning scoreless streak in the tournament came to an end in the fourth inning, but he still finished with an ERA under 1.00 for the season.
“Trent pitched great,” Derek Ellis said. “We were close. Unfortunately, we gave a couple runs away and we’re on the wrong end of the scoreboard.”
“It was a great season, no doubt,” Astle said. “I loved every day of it. We’re back-to-back sectional champs, regional champs, we beat a lot of good teams. It was a fun and memorable season.”
Drew Ellis went 2 for 3, the only Red Devil with multiple hits against the Russell-Birch tandem. Josh Burke walked once and had a single.
“I’m extremely proud of this team and their character and they way they carry themselves,” Derek Ellis said. “I’ve got 20 baseball players and we’ll be back.”
Besides Astle, Ellis also says goodbye to seniors Gallagher, Dallas Bott, Matt Blackburn, Mark Meyer and Isaac Crafton, who was the 2012 News and Tribune Player of the Year but missed his entire senior season.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these seniors,” Derek Ellis said. “They’ve been through a lot. For them to do what they’ve done is remarkable.”
CLASS 4A PLAINFIELD SEMISTATE
CATHEDRAL 4, JEFFERSONVILLE 3
Jeffersonville 101 001 0—3 6 2
Cathedral 000 130 x—4 6 0
W — Ashe Russell (10-0). L — Trent Astle (9-2). S — Will Birch. 2B — Astle (J), Luke Cureton (C), Russell (C).
Records — Jeffersonville 23-6, Cathedral 28-0.