By GREG MENGELT
New Albany improved to 3-0 in the 9-10 Little League state tournament at Jeff/GRC with a come-from-behind 12-3 win over Terre Haute North on Saturday.
With the win, New Albany has moved into the single-elimination round of the tournament. The All-Stars will face either Auburn, Indianapolis Haverford or, likely, Terre Haute North again in Tuesday’s state semifinals after opening the tournament by outscoring their three opponents 40-3.
Biven believes he already knows who his team is going to play. It will likely face a Terre Haute North team that put a bit of a scare in New Albany on Saturday.
“I expect them to win Monday night in the losers bracket finals and we’ll play them again on Tuesday in the semifinals — the Final Four in the state,” Biven predicted.
After rolling through the double-elimination part of the tournament, Biven said he doesn’t expect his team to treat the final two games any differenty.
“We took this game as a single elimination,” Biven said of Saturday’s victory. “We wanted to win this game no matter what. We didn’t want to play Monday night [in the losers bracket]. It happened that way.”
After dominating New Castle and Auburn in the first two rounds of the tournament, New Albany found itself down 3-0 after three innings on Saturday.
After Terre Haute North left the bases full in the first inning, it got five singles off of New Albany starter Ray Reisinger in the second inning to take a 2-0 lead. Matt Gauer then made it 3-0 in the third when he singled, went to second on a sacrifice bunt, to third on a wild pitch and home on a passed ball with two outs and two strikes on Ethan Knott.
The damage could have been worse. North left the bases loaded in the first inning and an incredible double play got New Albany reliever Nick Sexton out of a jam in the top of the fourth. With North’s Jace Ross on second, Knott hit a ground ball to Tucker Biven at shortstop. Biven gunned down Knott at first. New Albany first baseman Josh Castleman then threw a perfect strike to Reisinger, who tagged out Ross at third base.
“That was a high school or college play,” Josh Biven said. “That was sick.”
Meanwhile, New Albany had three hits and stranded five baserunners in the first three innings against Gauer.
“They made some nice plays early but we were hitting the ball hard,” Josh Biven said. “A couple of plays here and there didn’t go our way. That’s the name of the game. No big deal. We came back and rallied a little bit.”
As it did much of the day, the bottom of the New Albany order got it going in an eight-run fourth inning.
Luke Vick started the rally with an infield single. With one out, Jackson Murphy drew a walk and Kaden Elliott blasted a line drive into center field to load the bases. Both Murphy and Elliott came off the bench for their first at-bats in the fourth.
“They got us going in the fourth,” Josh Biven said of the lower half of the New Albany lineup. “Kaden Elliott had a big single coming off of the bench and ended up scoring. We got to the top and ended up going through the lineup.”
“Our bottom lineup and our top lineup has hit great,” Sexton said. “Everyone hit great. That was just awesome.”
As the top of the order came up, Biven hit a two-RBI single past second base to cut the lead to 3-2 and Austin Oppel hit a two-RBI double over the left fielder’s head to give New Albanhy its first lead at 4-3. After an intentional walk to Castleman and an error, David Newbanks hit a blast over the center field fence to make it 8-3.
“That was a huge inning,” Biven said.
New Albany drew four straight walks off of Knott to start the fifth inning. After a Castleman fielder’s choice, Reisinger knocked in two with a single and Vick hit an RBI ground ball and it was 12-3.
Sexton pitched the final 2 1-3 innings to earn the victory. He set down seven of the eight batters he faced, including the final five.
“Nick did great coming in,” Josh Biven praised. “We needed him to throw strikes and that’s what he did. He did a wonderful job coming in for us.”
“I wanted to throw strikes and help win this game for my team,” Sexton said.
Despite a rough first three innings, Coach Biven believes being forced to play from behind may be an advantage in the tournament’s final two games.
“It was a great effort. We’ve never been down in a game,” he said. “That was huge to show the boys that they can come back from behind. So we’ll be ready.”
“We knew we were going to come back and win this game,” Sexton said. “We are the best team in team in the state and we’re going to win it.”
Not everyone felt that a comeback was inevitable.
“I thought when they got those three runs, we were kind of losing it maybe,” Vick said. “But we came back and whooped ’em.”
LITTLE LEAGUE 9-10 STATE FINALS
NEW ALBANY 12, TERRE HAUTE NORTH 3
TH North 021 000— 3 8 2
New Albany 000 84x—12 10 0
W — Nick Sexton. L — Ethan Knott. 2B — Matt Gauer (T), Austin Oppel (N). HR — David Newbanks (N).
Records — Terre Haute North 2-1, New Albany 3-0.