RAMSEY — Tyler Wheeler was dialed in Monday afternoon.
The Silver Creek senior right-hander shook off a nagging quadriceps injury and tossed a complete-game, four-hit shutout to lead the Dragons to a 1-0 win over Providence in the Class 3A North Harrison Sectional final.
“He pitched unbelievable and the defense was good enough to keep us right there. I wouldn’t have thought it would be 1-0. I was thinking 4-3, something like that, but Tyler was really, really good,” Silver Creek coach Joe Decker said after his team hoisted the sectional trophy for the third consecutive year. “If he’s on the mound I like our chances. He’s just so competitive. He’s got really good stuff, but he’ll also compete. There were some moments where there was some adversity … but he just competes through it. He doesn’t lose his composure, he stays focused. He’s just one of those guys, in those situations there’s nobody you’d rather have on the mound. We were lucky enough to have Sammy [Barnett] last year that was the same kind of dude. Now to have him this year, hopefully our younger guys learn from that.”
The 10th-ranked Dragons (21-6) will face South Dearborn (16-7), a 16-1 winner over Madison in the South Dearborn Sectional final, Saturday in the first semifinal of the Evansville Bosse Regional. The regional final will be that night.
To earn that right Silver Creek avenged a regular-season loss to the Pioneers, and in the process ended the coaching career of long-time Providence skipper Scott Hornung.
“It was exactly the way I thought it was going to be. Not necessarily a defeat, but a pitchers’ duel,” said Hornung, who is retiring after 25 years of guiding the Pioneers. “Both teams had equal opportunities. They just cashed in on one and we didn’t cash in on any. But the opportunities were limited for both teams. Hats off to both teams and both pitchers.”
The game’s only run was scored in the top of the third inning.
Silver Creek senior Gabe Falcone led off with a stand-up double off the wall in left-center field off Providence starter Christian Graf, who held the Dragons to four hits in a 6-2 Pioneers’ victory in late April.
“He just threw the fastball and I jumped on it,” Falcone said. “It’s really a surreal moment, having a double in a setting like that against a good pitcher like that.”
Falcone moved to third on Dylan Whitt’s groundout, then scored on freshman Dominic Decker’s groundout.
“Gabe’s double, I thought was a fly ball to left field. He hit it and I’m like, ‘Oh crud!’ But it just kept going and going and going and it ends up being the only run that we get. I thought Dominic had a really good at-bat there to get the ground ball, just doing his job to get it in,” Joe Decker said of his son’s RBI.
However that was all the Dragons could get against Graf. The senior right-hander, who has been battling an on-going back issue that flared up during the game, yielded only three hits while walking two and striking out four before being lifted with one on and no outs in the sixth.
“He didn’t want to come out, but it got worse, so eventually I just had to,” Hornung said. “He was incredible.”
Wheeler, meanwhile, was dealing with his own malady. The University of Southern Indiana-signee injured his quadriceps in a game at Lanesville on May 8 and sat out the final six games of the regular season before pitching in relief during Friday’s sectional semifinal win over Brownstown Central.
“The first couple games of sectional I was told, ‘No hard running,’ so I didn’t reaggravate it,” Wheeler said. “Then today, I just ... I’m 100 percent now, I’m going with that. I’m going with 100 percent whenever we play.”
The only real threat Wheeler faced came in the bottom of the sixth, when Providence had runners on first and second with one out. It didn’t last long, though. Wheeler got Adam Uhl to foul out, then Eli Watson to fly out to end the inning.
In the seventh he gave up a leadoff single to Zach Tackett, before retiring the next three Pioneers.
“It was fun,” Wheeler said. “We got to compete a little bit. I’ve played with them growing up playing travel ball, so it was good to see all them. We’d have a dead ball and I’d go up and talk to the batter. I just know them all, am close with them all. It was really cool to, my senior year, finally get to be playing against those guys in a big game. It was a lot of fun to compete against them.”
It was the last game, however, for Hornung, who announced his retirement earlier this season.
“I was thinking about it on the way out here today,” he said. “I feel privileged and blessed that I’ve been able to coach as long as I have and encounter and build relationships with as many young people as I have, and represent the school and the opportunity the school gave me way back when to lead the program. It’s been a blessing.”