Despite painful ending, Raider revival in full effect

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Southridge's Patrick Sander, left, and Colson Montgomery fall to the ground after a ball falls in between them. The error allowed the winning run to come home and score during the last play of Tuesday's Class 2A state championship game at Victory field in Indianapolis. Alexandria defeated Southridge 4-3. 


INDIANAPOLIS — There’s a few words you could use to describe the end of Tuesday night’s IHSAA Class 2A baseball state championship between Southridge and Alexandria-Monroe.

Shocking. Disappointing. Cruel. All of these accurately described the final inning of Southridge’s 4-3 loss to the Tigers in the state title game after two costly errors prevented the Raiders from winning their first ever baseball state championship.

“Baseball, it’s a cruel game sometimes,” said senior center fielder Tucker Schank. “We had it, we really had it the whole time up until the very last moment. We pitched great, hit fine but a couple key mistakes late doomed us — that’s baseball.”

The Raiders led 3-0 entering the sixth inning but an RBI single from Brayton Gaines and another run off of a wild pitch brought the Tigers within one run, 3-2.

Even though the momentum appeared to be swinging toward Alexandria-Monroe, Southridge still had the lead and their ace, Ethan Bell, was dealing on the mound. He started the seventh inning with two consecutive strikeouts and also had Kole Stewart swinging for what should’ve been the third and final out.

However, the ball hit the dirt but catcher Chase Taylor was ready to throw down to first. Unfortunately, the throw went above first baseman Conner Oxley’s head and allowed Stewart to advance all the way to second base. Starting pitcher Brennan Morehead proceeded to drive in Stewart with an RBI double to tie things up at 3-3 but then the toughest play of the night happened.

Nick Williams hit a fairly routine fly ball into shallow left field where it appeared to be playable for either shortstop Colson Montgomery or left fielder Patrick Sander. However, a little bit of miscommunication led to the ball dropping immediately in between the two and the winning run crossed the plate. Game over.

“I just don’t even want to be here anymore, you know what I mean? It’s just frustrating,” Sander said following the game’s final out. “I make those freaking catches all of the time and usually, it’s nothing. I just don’t know.”

Schank added: “Sometimes life isn’t easy, even worse, sometimes it’s just not fair. None of us expected to lose this game but I guess we’ll learn that everything in life won’t go the way you expect it.”

This is the second consecutive season that the Raiders have been 90 feet away from winning their first ever baseball state championship. Last year, Southridge nearly rallied after trailing 5-0 entering the 7th inning against Boone Grove and current Indiana University pitcher Ty Bothwell. They scored four runs in the final inning but left the bases loaded to end not only the game, but their season.

However, this season it was the opposite — the Raiders led for practically the entire game until the final moment that will stick with them for a long, long time.

“It’s a real tough way to lose, I don’t think you could imagine losing in a worse way then that,” senior right fielder Joe LaGrange said. “It’s going to hurt but like coach (Gene) Mattingly says, ‘The sun is going to come up tomorrow.’ These guys are going to go right back to work and they’re going to have success — they’ll come back and have another great season on the diamond.”

While the Raiders will graduate three very integral parts of their team — LaGrange, Sander and Schank — the team will also return the six other starters from this year’s state team which includes a plethora of talent.

Southridge senior Joe LaGrange pats fellow senior Patrick Sander on the shoulder as they leave the stadium after Tuesday's Class 2A state championship game at Victory field in Indianapolis.

Guys like sophomore Ethan Bell — the starting ace for the Raiders who struck out 10 batters in the loss and had an ERA of just 1.39 and a 9-1 record up until the state game. Then there’s also players like junior Conner Oxley, who had a ringing double and the star-studded sophomore class that includes names such as Colson Montgomery, Camden Gasser and Chase Taylor. There’s no denying that the Raiders have plenty of Division I-level talent on the roster for the next few seasons.

But while the talent level will be exceptional for years to come for Southridge, the graduating group of seniors hopes that the underclassmen will take lessons from their leadership over these past few seasons.

“I just hope we set a good example, I hope we were good examples of the kind of (men) we want these guys to be,” Schank said. “I think us three seniors will turn out to be pretty successful people because that’s just who we are — I hope that these younger guys saw that and they can follow suit. Not just in sports, but life in general. I want them to persevere and work hard for the things they want.”

Overall, it’s safe to say that the Southridge baseball program has improved by leaps and bounds over the past few years. Just in the past two seasons, the Raiders won their first regional and semistate titles and also advanced to their first ever state championship — they were able to accomplish all of those things in back-to-back seasons.

Raiders head coach Gene Mattingly is well aware how prevalent this year’s group of graduating seniors was in that turnaround.

“We’re in the (championship) two years in a row, largely because of what (those guys) did,” Mattingly said. “For me, they were amazing leaders, amazing people and amazing players.”

Of course, this loss will sting for awhile for everyone associated with the Southridge baseball program. But it’s safe to say that with the talent the team has returning and with the legacy that LaGrange, Sander and Schank have left, people around the state of Indiana will be well aware of the Southridge Raiders.

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