By KEVIN HARRIS
NEW ALBANY —
The New Albany Bulldogs continued a common trend that has been going on the past several years on Saturday at Mount Tabor Field — winning the Stan Sajko Invitational.
Class 4A No. 10 New Albany won the tournament it has hosted since 1962 for the 10th consecutive time by defeating Providence in the championship game, 8-5. The Bulldogs (20-6) won the Sajko Invitational for the 22nd time overall and the 14th time in the last 15 tournaments.
New Albany assistant coach Kevin Hall, who ran the team after Bulldogs’ manager Chris McIntyre left the middle of the game after suffering an injury, said the entire New Albany program takes pride in winning the tournament every year and honoring Sajko, the late Hall of Fame baseball coach at NAHS. Sajko’s wife, Helen, and daughter, Cara, were in attendance on Saturday.
“To be the oldest tournament in the state of Indiana — it’s huge,” Hall said. “I had the pleasure of bat-boying for Coach Sajko when my brother played here in the 70’s. I had an opportunity to work for Coach Sajko in the 80’s, so the family holds a special place in my heart.
“It’s awesome that [Helen Sajko] gets to come out and witness [the tournament] for Stan. She’s a great ambassador for New Albany. Everybody that knew Stan knew Helen — they were hand-in-hand. To have her and Cara keep coming out is a blessing.”
The game’s most critical inning was the bottom of the third when the Bulldogs snapped a scoreless tie with four runs.
New Albany junior Tucker Marcum led off the frame with an opposite-field single to left field. Teammate Logan Striegel reached base on a fielding error, allowing Marcum to advance to second base.
Pioneers’ starter Andrew Hunt then issued back-to-back walks to Garrett Sherrell and Zach Worrall to drive in Marcum for the Bulldogs’ first run. Following a Hunt strikeout of New Albany’s Jack Shine, Bulldog freshman A.J. Nixon laced an opposite-field single to right to plate Striegel.
New Albany’s next two runs came on a Tanner Robison sacrifice fly and a RBI infield single by Shane Robison, giving the Bulldogs a 4-0 lead.
“We preach to our guys to take advantage of other teams that are going to give us extra bases,” Hall said. “We had some guys step up and take some pitches. We had some good at-bats.”
New Albany extended its advantage to 5-0 in the fourth when Shine smacked an RBI double to the right-center gap with two out.
Providence (16-8) scored its first two runs in the top of the fifth. With one out and runners at first and second, Drew Campbell hit a single to center to drive in Aaron Patterson from second. Moments later, the Pioneers’ George Knott came home on a wild pitch by New Albany starter Brandon Johnson to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 5-2.
New Albany answered with three runs in the bottom half to go up 8-2. Marcum collected an RBI double, teammate Dylan Cook came home on a wild pitch, and Sherrell smacked a one-run single to left.
Providence’s final three runs came in the sixth. Senior Nick Campbell smacked a solo home run over the left-field fence with one out. That was followed by an RBI double by Patterson and an RBI single by Drew Campbell.
“I’ve got mixed emotions about this game,” Pioneers’ coach Scott Hornung said. “In one respect when we did fall behind, we definitely showed a lot [more] fight than we have in the past. We came back and we hit the ball well all day long and we made it a ballgame. We hit the ball legitimately.
“But the thing I’m upset about is that game was there for us to win. We made mistakes that gave them five unearned runs out of their eight. Those mistakes cost us because if we would’ve held them at 4-0 instead of letting them continue to add runs in that situation, it could’ve been a different story. I’m not happy at all about the loss. But I’m pleased with the way they fought back.”
Four Bulldogs had multihit games. Shane Robison was 2 for 2 with a run scored, while Worrall went 2 for 3 with two runs scored and an RBI. Sherrell ended up 2 for 3 with a run scored and an RBI, and Marcum was 2 for 4 with two runs scored and an RBI.
Johnson got the victory in 4 1/3 innings of work, upping his record to 6-1. He surrendered two runs (both earned) on four hits with six strikeouts and three walks. Johnson held the Pioneers to no runs on two hits in the first four innings. Worrall picked up his second save by pitching a scoreless seventh.
“He pitched four goose eggs in the first four innings. He threw well and he dominated,” Hall said about Johnson’s effort. “He had control of both of his pitches. Then they got a couple of hits off of him and he got a little rattled. Sometimes a pitcher gets a little rattled.”
Drew Campbell wound up 3 for 3 with two RBIs, while Patterson was 3 for 3 with two runs scored and an RBI.
Hornung praised the production he got from his hitters outside the 3-5 positions in his lineup. Drew Campbell batted in the No. 1 spot, Patterson was Providence’s No. 8 hitter, and Nick Campbell hit in the No. 6 spot.
“We made it an 8-5 game and our three, four and five hitters really didn’t supply us with any of the offense that we needed from them today. The offense came from the top and from the bottom [of the lineup] basically,” Hornung said. “From that situation, I’m really encouraged because I know those three, four and five guys are going to hit for us when it matters. If we can get production from the top and the bottom like that, it’s going to be really encouraging.”
Hunt suffered the loss, yielding four runs, although none earned were earned, on six hits with three walks and one strikeout.
New Albany is scheduled to host a split doubleheader with Borden and Henryville on Monday, starting at 5 p.m. The Pioneers will play defending sectional champion Eastern in the Class 2A Providence Sectional semifinals at about 1 p.m. next Saturday at Memorial Field.