SELLERSBURG — Silver Creek’s baseball team has all the elements of a championship team with a deep lineup and a rangy and talented defensive group, but it’s hard to contend for a state title without an elite battery.
The Dragons have that with ace right-hander Tyler Wheeler and senior catcher Tyler Kapust.
The duo are a big reason why the Dragons are one win away from reaching a second straight Class 3A State Championship game.
Wheeler has a 2.18 earned-run average with 75 strikeouts in 45 1/3 innings this season and will be on the mound today as the Dragons face an Edgewood squad that is No. 2 in the state and has multiple Indiana recruits.
Wheeler said following his regional championship complete game that he’s just trying to enjoy each step of the postseason.
“I love it. We have the same returning guys. Once you get further, it gets more fun,” Wheeler said. “The coaches aren’t there to discipline you, they’re there to be your friends and coach you still. But most importantly, cheer for you. It’s just really cool how our entire community comes together in the postseason. Our community just really backs all of our sports. We saw it this year with our basketball team.”
The right-hander is now 8-1 this season. He and Kapust may not be done working together. Both are signed to play at Division-II power Southern Indiana next season.
“I’ve caught him for 10 years of my life. It’s just a blessing. This year and next year at USI, hopefully I’ll get to catch him some more,” Kapust said.
If Kapust keeps hitting the way he has for Silver Creek, USI coach Tracy Archuleta will have a difficult time keeping him out of the lineup.
Kapust connected for his seventh home run of the season and raised his batting average over the .446 mark this season with an on-base percentage over .550.
He’s as crucial a part of coach Joe Decker’s lineup as anyone in the No. 3 spot, and Decker enjoys seeing the two best friends work together trying to get opponents out.
“They’ve played together since probably six years old,” Decker said.
Not only does Wheeler have his lifelong friend as a battery mate, he has his father, Ryan Wheeler, as his pitching coach.
The hard-throwing right-hander uses a nasty hard-biting slider paired with a heavy dose of well-placed fastballs to dominate hitters.
Ryan Wheeler calls pitches from the dugout but with a guy like Tyler who went 11-0 as a junior, there’s some trust.
“He gives Tyler a little more freedom than the other guys. No. 1, he knows him, and No. 2, Tyler knows the game,” Decker said. “If Tyler knows what he has working and what he doesn’t have working or if he doesn’t agree, we let him go with it.”
Wheeler, a .400 hitter with 13 extra-base hits as the Dragons’ clean-up hitter, is one of the top two-way players in all of Southern Indiana.
Wheeler’s senior year has been great but it had some adversity as well. He had to overcome a quad injury that had him miss some key games late in the season. It didn’t take him long to get into postseason form.
Wheeler tossed a 1-0 shutout against Providence in the sectional and held Vincennes Lincoln to three hits in the regional-title game.
Decker said he saw progress from one week to the next.
“From a stamina point, he wore down in about the fifth and was on guts [against Providence],” Decker said. “Against Vincennes Lincoln, he looked a little stronger into the sixth and seventh [innings]. Hopefully he has his stamina back up.”
He may need it against Edgewood. His counterpart on the mound for the Mustangs is IU recruit Luke Hayden, who is joined by future Hoosier Ethan Vecrumba.
But Decker likes his chances with Wheeler.
“He wants the ball when you need somebody to want it. That’s a great thing to have,” Decker said.