By KEVIN HARRIS
Last year in the Class 4A Evansville Reitz Regional final, the Class 4A No. 8 Jeffersonville Red Devils suffered one of the most disappointing losses in their history.
Red Devil pitcher Mark Meyer surrendered a walk-off two-run home run to New Palestine’s Jacob Barnes to hand Jeff an 11-9 loss.
But on Monday night in this season’s Class 4A Reitz Regional final at Bosse Field, it was redemption time for Meyer and the Red Devils.
Meyer earned the victory in a starting role, leading Jeff to its first regional championship since 2003 in a 7-3 win over Class 4A No. 5 Bloomington North. The Red Devils (23-5) will play Class 4A No. 2 Indianapolis Cathedral (27-0) in the Class 4A semistate at either Plainfield or Jasper on Saturday. The Fighting Irish won the Avon Regional over Brownsburg on Monday, 5-0.
“OK, we can call it that,” Jeff coach Derek Ellis joked about this being redemption for his Devils after last year’s heartbreaking setback. “We’re just trying to win a stinking baseball game. We left here with our tails between our legs last year. But this will be a better feeling we’ll have on the ride home tonight.”
Meyer improved his record to 6-2, giving up three runs (two earned) on five hits with one strikeout, one hit batter and no walks. After struggling in the first inning, Meyer retired 12 in a row before allowing two hits in the bottom of the sixth.
Meyer said redemption was so sweet for himself.
“It feel like a lot better this year,” Meyer said. “This is amazing.”
One swing gave the Cougars (26-5) a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
With two out and the bases loaded, North junior Max Williams drilled an opposite-field single to right field to score Baron Ryan and Bryce Aldridge.
But the Red Devils answered in the top of the third. Junior Josh Burke drew a walk from Cougars’ starting pitcher Adam Cornwell and then got sacrificed to second by Jeff starter Mark Meyer.
The Red Devils loaded the bases when Jared Burke walked and Nick Gallagher smacked a base hit to right. Junior Drew Ellis plated Josh Burke with a deep sacrifice fly to center to pull Jeff to within 2-1.
The Red Devils’ Trent Astle smacked an opposite-field single to right to knock in Jared Burke from third to tie the game at two. Shortly thereafter, North right fielder Zach Cleaver misplayed Astle’s base hit, allowing Gallagher to score from first to give Jeff a 3-2 advantage.
Jeff extended its lead to 4-2 in the top of the sixth. With two out and one on, Jared Burke launched an opposite-field double to left to drive in pinch-runner Damin Smith from second. Cougars’ left fielder Baron Ryan nearly made a diving catch on Jared Burke’s hit, but the ball tipped off his glove to allow the run.
North scored a run in the bottom of the sixth to cut its deficit to 4-3. Junior catcher Bryce Aldridge smacked a double to right-center to knock in Cornwell from third.
But the Red Devils prevented the possible trying run on the play when they made a 9-6-2 assist to cut down pinch-runner Chris Campbell. Right fielder Chandler Dale threw the ball to Drew Ellis, who then threw a dart to catcher Casey Gibson to tag out Campbell.
“I’d pretty much had given up on the play because I thought the two runs had scored,” Derek Ellis said. “That was a huge play to not have them tie it up right there.”
Jeff put the game away in the top of the seventh with three runs on three hits and two costly Cougar errors. Dale smacked an RBI single to right-center to plate Drew Ellis to put the Red Devils up 5-3.
Pinch-runner Jeremiah Phelps made the score 6-3 when he ran home from third on a wild pickoff throw by North reliever Dylan Stutsman. Dale scored Jeff’s final run on another Cougar error when Aldridge misplayed a relay throw from right.
JEFF 1, FRANKLIN 0
Astle continued his postseason dominance on the mound in the semifinal victory.
Astle outdueled Grizzly Cubs’ ace Jeremy McKinney, as he tossed a one-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts and one walk. The senior left-hander surrendered his only hit to Franklin’s leadoff man, Evan Giles, to start the game. Astle retired the 18 Grizzly Cubs he faced.
“I’ve been saying it all year — it’s Trent being Trent. For crying out loud, he just competes,” Derek Ellis said about Astle, who has thrown 14 scoreless innings in postseason play. “Jeremy McKinney, their guy, he threw a great game as well. But with Trent once we got the run, he looked like himself. He just keeps doing what he does, and he’s fun to watch.”
The Red Devils’ lone run came in the bottom of the fourth. With two out, Jeff sophomore Nolan Fertig hit a single to the right side of the infield. After Franklin first baseman Cody Fowler fielded the ball between the mound and first base, Fowler threw the ball past McKinney, who was covering first. The error allowed Fertig to advance to second.
After Gibson drew a walk, teammate Hayden Robb drove in Fertig with a single to left on a 2-2 pitch. Robb went 2-for-3 with a stolen base as he missed several weeks this season because of a strained back muscle.
“Being able to hit the ball with two strikes, that was key for Hayden. That was a great at-bat,” Derek Ellis said.
Bloomington North defeated Evansville North in the second semifinal, 2-1.
CLASS 4A EVANSVILLE REITZ REGIONAL
JEFFERSONVILLE 7, BLOOMINGTON NORTH 3
Jeffersonville 003 001 3—7 9 1
Bloomington North 200 001 0—3 6 3
W — Mark Meyer (6-2). L — Adam Cornwell (4-3). 2B — Jared Burke (J), Bryce Aldridge (BN).
Records — Jeff 23-5, Bloomington North 26-5.
JEFFERSONVILLE 1, FRANKLIN 0
Franklin 000 000 0—0 1 1
Jeffersonville 000 100 x—1 4 0
W — Trent Astle (7-1). L — Jeremy McKinney (8-3). 2B — Drew Ellis (J).
Records — Jeff 22-5, Franklin 17-10.