Raiders to attend to ‘unfinished business’

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Southridge's Joe LaGrange, center, coach Blake Broeker and Cort Gerber laugh and catch up before batting practice in the field house at the high school on Thursday.


It was the perfect setup.

After struggling for the first six innings of last year’s Indiana High School Athletic Association Class 2A state title game, the Southridge baseball team found themselves with the game-tying run just 90 feet away, with two outs and bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The Raiders had two of their quickest runners on the bases and one of the team’s top hitters at the plate in outfielder Joe LaGrange. He sported a .330 batting average with 30 hits and 14 runs driven in.

After nearly being hit with a pitch that would’ve sent the tying run to the plate, LaGrange still had another chance. Unfortunately, the ball LaGrange hit was popped up to Boone Grove shortstop Tanner Barron — game over.

“I was devastated being the final out — I know that no game comes down to just one at-bat but I know how big of an at-bat that was,” said LaGrange, reminiscing about last year’s title game.

“That whole summer and throughout this past school year, I just thought about getting to re-do that at-bat. Now, we get a chance to redeem ourselves and finish the business we left on the table — I’m excited for that opportunity.”

The Southridge baseball team (22-8) has been on a roll throughout this postseason and for the second straight year, they’ll be playing in the Class 2A state title game. They’ll face Alexandria-Monroe (28-6) at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Last season was a historic year for the Southridge baseball team as they won their first ever regional and semistate titles in school history.

But even after the extremely successful season, the Raiders couldn’t help but feel rather disappointed as they left Victory Field last season.

“Usually when you go to Indy, you’re supposed to leave proud and gratified from an awesome season. But we just left there with a sick feeling,” said senior outfielder Tucker Schank. “We were so close to the ultimate prize (last year). That’s why not even a week after we lost, we were right back working at it again.”

Not long after last year’s state title game, a motto quickly spread throughout the Southridge baseball program — “Unfinished Business.”

In fact, assistant coach Brian Craig had it printed on T-shirts that were passed out to the team after last season’s end-of-the-year banquet.

Southridge head coach Gene Mattingly noticed how determined the team was early in the winter and while the group had some struggles earlier in the season, he’s seeing things all start to come together at the most important time.

“Early in the winter, we put in a whole new offseason conditioning program. We’ve seen kids transform their movements to become more athletic and more explosive,” Mattingly said. “It took us a little while to kind of get in a groove and get going but we saw the commitment early. We knew it was in there.”

The Raiders had a stretch of some tough losses early in the year to strong programs, such as Castle and Martinsville as well as Pocket Athletic Conference rivals North Posey and Tecumseh.

The Southridge Raiders huddle during practice at the high school in Huntingburg on Thursday.

But after a few players-only meetings set up by the team’s three seniors — LaGrange, Schank and Patrick Sander — the leadership and the effect those guys had on the rest of the team became clear very fast.

“As a coaching staff, we can preach whatever we want and say what we think is right but until those guys do it, it’s not the team’s culture until they’re bought in,” Mattingly said. “We’ve had some ups and downs throughout the year and we’ve kind of leaned on those guys as a staff — they always set a good example.”

After graduating several key guys from last year’s group, including two IHSAA Mental Attitude Award Winners in Jayce Harter and Justin Lammers, the Raider seniors knew they had a big role this year.

And while all three of them are huge contributors with their play, perhaps their most important role to the team is their leadership.

“I’ve found myself staying really vocally involved even when I’m playing, I just want to keep everyone focused,” Schank said. “We have a lot of young guys and sometimes they just need that senior there to keep them motivated.”

Sander added: “I’m always trying to set a good example, especially for the underclassmen. Hopefully they’ll follow it for years to come and it’ll benefit the program as a whole.”

No matter what happens on Tuesday at Victory Field, the Raiders feel they’re well-prepared for whatever gets thrown their way.

It’s something they’ve been preparing for ever since the last out of last year’s title game and now, they get a chance to rewrite their story.

“Our primary goal is always just to win sectional, but I think getting back to state was always in the back of our mind,” LaGrange said. “We wanted to get back there and finish what we didn’t do last year. We were very determined from day one.”

Schank added: “We knew once spring rolled around that we’d start the grind up again en route to a state title. I’m not going to say we spoke it into existence since we knew we had such a talented team, but we definitely started to peak at the right time — this became a very foreseeable thing for us.”

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