> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
Only one word can describe next week’s Hoosier Hills Conference baseball tournament — competitive.
Six Hoosier Hills squads enter the tournament with winning records, including the Clark-Floyd area’s three HHC squads in Class 4A No. 1 Floyd Central (21-0), Jeffersonville (11-3) and New Albany (14-4). The other above-.500 teams in the tourney are Seymour (10-8), Columbus East (13-6) and Jennings County (11-6).
“As far as a regular-season type tournament, it’s as good as it can be in the state,” Bulldogs’ coach Chris McIntyre said. “The field is probably as good as ever.”
Red Devils’ coach Derek Ellis agrees with McIntyre about the strength of the tournament field.
“Our conference is a tough conference. It’s a crap shoot every single year,” Ellis said. “I know New Albany and Jeff have won it consistently year after year. But when you have Jennings, Bedford [North Lawrence], Madison, Columbus East, Jeff and New Albany battling out, that’s good baseball. It’s as good as any in the state.”
All four first-round games of the HHC Tournament will be Monday, with each contest scheduled to start at 6 p.m.
The most attractive opening-round contest will happen at Mount Tabor Field in New Albany as the host Bulldogs face archrival Floyd Central. The winner of that game will face either Seymour or Columbus East in Wednesday’s semifinals.
In the bottom half of the bracket, the Red Devils will travel to Jennings County in the first round. The winner will play either Bedford (9-9) or Madison (8-12) in Wednesday’s semis.
The Highlanders and Bulldogs will be meeting in the first round of the conference tourney for the second year in a row. New Albany needed two days to defeat Floyd Central in last season’s HHC matchup, winning 2-1 in 11 innings. The game was suspended due to rain in the top of the sixth on May 7, 2012 and resumed the following day.
“We’ve gotten two tough draws two years in a row,” said Floyd Central coach Casey LaDuke, who would like to see the HHC seed the tournament in some form in the future. “We’re in the tough part of the bracket. I think Jeff got an easy draw.”
The Highlanders beat the Bulldogs in their first matchup of the 2013 campaign on April 10 at Mount Tabor Field, 10-5. Floyd Central bolted out to a 7-0 lead, but New Albany got within two runs after six innings. But the Highlanders put the game away in the top of the seventh by scoring three times.
McIntyre says the Bulldogs cannot give their rivals any extra outs on Monday if they plan to advance out of the first round.
“You can’t walk people. We found that out the first time we played them. You can’t give them four or five outs an inning,” McIntyre said. “Obviously, they’re probably playing as good as anybody in the state. They have everybody back, and I knew they would be pretty good. They’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
Despite battling a lot of injuries this season, New Albany has been playing well as of late as it has an eight-game winning streak. The Bulldogs’ most significant injury this season was when senior ace pitcher Josh Rogers saw his campaign come to an end with a torn ligament in his elbow.
“Chris does a great job with them. When Josh went down, they had some things to figure out,” LaDuke said. “Monday is going to be a tough game. Chris always has them ready to play.”
The Red Devils, who are the defending HHC Tourney champions, will be playing Jennings County for the third time this season on Monday. Jeff downed the Panthers on April 4 at Don Poole Field, 9-2. Then on Wednesday, the Red Devils traveled to Jennings and thumped the Panthers, 17-6.
Even though his team has beaten Jennings twice, Ellis is apprehensive about playing Jennings County again.
“On paper, the draw looks pretty good for us,” Ellis said. “The bad thing about that is we’ve beaten Jennings twice and now we’ve got to beat them a third time at their place again. That’s difficult to do and they’ve got a very good team. They’ve seen us twice and they’ve seen almost all of our pitchers. I think it’s going to be a good game for the first game of the conference tournament.”
Like Floyd Central and New Albany, the Red Devils are also on a long winning streak as they have prevailed in eight straight games.
“We’re playing well right now,” Ellis said. “We’re swinging the bats very well. Defensively, we’ve tightened it up quite a bit from earlier on. In our three losses, we’ve lost by a total of four runs against great teams. We could easily be 14-0 right now, but that’s baseball. The mistakes that we’ve made, we’ve learned from them. Hopefully, we can continue to play the baseball that we’re playing.”
HHC BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
MONDAY’S FIRST-ROUND GAMES
(All games scheduled for 6 p.m.)
Seymour (10-8) at Columbus East (13-6)
Floyd Central (21-0) at New Albany (14-4)
Bedford North Lawrence (9-9) at Madison (8-12)
Jeffersonville (11-3) at Jennings County (11-6)