Raiders ready for state matchup with Alexandria

 

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Ethan Bell has been on a tear as of late for the Southridge baseball team. He'll get the starting nod for the Raiders in this Tuesday's IHSAA Class 2A baseball state championship as Southridge faces Alexandria-Monroe at 8:30 p.m. The Raiders feel rather confident heading into their matchup against the Tigers. 

By JONATHAN SAXON

jsaxon@dcherald.com

HUNTINGBURG — Gene Mattingly put it simple and sweet when he shared how happy his team is to still be playing baseball in the middle of June as the Southridge Raiders prepare for their second straight state title game appearance.

“You want to be relevant in June,” he said. “So two years in a row we’ve been able to keep playing. Coach (Casey) Lindeman said after the regional win, June baseball is a lot of fun in the state of Indiana. 389 teams started, there’s eight left, and hopefully we’re one of the four that wins their last game.”

The Raiders’ run through the postseason has been nothing short of sensational.

They blanked their first two sectional opponents on the way to a 6-4 win over Linton in the final, then proceeded to surrender only one run during the regional and semistate games. Now the Alexandria-Monroe Tigers (28-6) are the final team standing between the Raiders and the school’s first baseball state championship and the boys are excited for the opportunity to bring another banner back to Huntingburg.

“Everybody’s lucky to get to go do it once, it’s a dream come true just to make it,” said senior center fielder Tucker Schank. “To do it two years in a row is unthinkable. It’s an honor, but it’s a lot of fun too. (We) played really well at the right times, so here we are again at the right spot.”

“We’re lucky and we have good coaches behind us,” added sophomore catcher Chase Taylor. “They push us everyday to be the best we can and that’s why we’re back.”

But the game in front of them will be a daunting task when the Raiders and Tigers collide on Tuesday night in Indianapolis. In many respects the Tigers mirror the Raiders as a baseball team: aggressive bats, tight defense across the field, and a reliable corps on the mound to tie it all together.

The Tigers boast a lineup that includes six players who have hit over .300 for the season, including three that have hit the .400 mark. They also average a little over one error per game in the field, and their junior top gun Brennan Morehead (10-2, 1.45 ERA) has amassed 105 strikeouts on the year. In addition to those factors, the Tigers will be a huge threat when it comes to getting extra bags as they’ve stolen 166 bases in 190 attempts during the season.

Mattingly thinks of the Tigers as a right-handed version of the Raiders, and in doing so believes that their best chance at taking them on Tuesday comes with being aggressive and smart at the plate. They must put the ball in play instead of letting the defense off the hook with strikeouts. As for making sure the Tigers stay honest on the base paths, Mattingly said it will take a combination of sophomore starter Ethan Bell disguising his intentions and giving his catcher room to make pickoff attempts as necessary.

“If they get on, he’s got to do a good job of mixing up his moves,” said Mattingly. “He’s got to be quick to the plate, he can’t get into a pattern so they can time him up. He’s got to give Chase an opportunity to throw.”

But that’s fine for Bell, who has come into his own this season as a starter for the Raiders. He too has posted ten wins this year, and can shut it down like the best of them when he finds control of the strike zone. He’s going into the game with his mind set on not letting any of the batters see first base, but should they get lucky he feels confident that Taylor can knock down anyone that thinks of making a run for it.

“I have trust in my catcher,” said Bell. “He’ll throw them out if they get on. I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”

Southridge shortstop Colson Montgomery said he's extremely grateful that the team is getting a second chance to rewrite what happened in last year's title game. It's safe to say that many of his teammates feel the exact same way. 

“My main goal is to show them a good pop time during warmups,” added Taylor, who is looking to use a bit of psychological warfare to keep the Tigers from even thinking about stealing. “Whenever they see that the ball got down there pretty fast, hopefully they’ll back off a little bit at the start. There haven’t been many attempts on me, so I’m excited for the challenge. Ethan’s smart and calm enough on the mound, we’ll be alright.”

The rest of the team shares that same confidence in Bell across the board.

They have seen him all year as he’s fanned batter after batter or thrown pitches that turned into easy plays in the field. The Raiders feel like they can beat anybody with the ball in Bell’s hands and that positive energy translates into success in every facet of their game.

“We’re a totally different team when Ethan is on the mound,” said Schank. “He works super fast, so the defense is always in it. He really shoves the strike zone and that allows us to stay in rhythm and make plays behind him. When he’s on the field we get a lot of strikeouts and a lot of ground balls. Everybody is confident behind him, and that turns over to confidence when we’re hitting.”

Tuesday night won’t be an easy test but the team has a collection of big game experience across multiple sports that the players can lean on and use as motivation against the Tigers.

They have been here before and remember the feeling of riding on the bus after falling just short in their 5-4 loss to Boone Grove. In the beginning of the spring the Raiders said they would do all that they could to make it back to state for an opportunity to redo history, and here they are still playing in June with a chance to take home all the marbles tomorrow night.

“Coming off a loss last year, having that heartbreak of just being one run and 90 feet (away) from coming out on top to now having a chance to go back and win it, it’s just amazing,” said sophomore shortstop Colson Montgomery. “We’re ready for this. It’s all coming down to the state finals. Coming back here is an amazing deal. We’re all humbled with it all, and we just don’t want to fall short.”




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