Raiders ring the Bell, return to State Finals

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Southridge seniors Tucker Schank, left, and Patrick Sander show the crowd their trophy plaque after defeating South Vermillion 7-0 in Saturday's Class 2A semistate championship game at Ruxer Field in Jasper. With the victory, the Raiders will once again be heading to Victory Field in Indianapolis to compete in the IHSAA Class 2A State Finals. For more photos from the game, click here.

By HENDRIX MAGLEY
hmagley@dcherald.com

JASPER — After Ethan Bell's dominating performance in last weekend's regional championship against North Posey, Southridge head coach Gene Mattingly said the sophomore Raider hurler still had his best baseball ahead of him.

While Mattingly was referring to Bell's bright future, it appears that the young Raider got a head start on that goal Saturday afternoon at Alvin C. Ruxer Field in Jasper.

Bell nearly pitched a complete game as he gave up just one hit (in the sixth inning) and struck out seven South Vermillion batters as the Raiders were victorious 7-0 over the Wildcats in Saturday's Class 2A semistate championship. With the win, the Raiders will return to Victory Field in Indianapolis for the second consecutive season for the IHSAA State Finals where they'll meet Alexandria-Monroe on either Monday, June 17 or Tuesday, June 18.

"I was super calm and I guess you could also say confident," said Bell following his complete game victory which improved him to 9-1 on the season. "When you know that you can be good with the defense that's behind you, you can just focus on throwing strikes and not really worry about it at all."

Mattingly added: "He was at 52 pitches in the sixth inning and I was like 'What?' — I had to double check with the guys (in the press box) just to make sure our book was right. That's just how good he was, he stayed in the zone all day and didn't give away any freebies. Geez, he was great."

The one hit the Wildcats got all day nearly didn't even happen. In the top of the sixth inning, freshman outfielder Jaxon Mullins ripped a single to center fielder where Southridge senior Tucker Schank nearly made an impressive grab to rob the South Vermillion batter of a hit. However, the ball fell to the field and Bell's perfect game had come to an end.

But before that hit, Bell wasn't even aware that there was a zero in the hit column for South Vermillion.

"Once they got that hit, I was just kind of like 'Oh, dang it," said Bell. "But when you take a look at the scoreboard now, it says 7-0 (Southridge) and at the end of the day that's what really matters."

Southridge's Ethan Bell pitches during Saturday's Class 2A semistate championship game at Ruxer Field in Jasper. Bell nearly had a perfect game as he only allowed one hit and two total baserunners in the complete game victory on the mound. He also struck out seven Wildcat batters in the win. For more photos from the game, click here.

After the Raiders nearly scored in the first few innings, Southridge finally broke through in the third inning. Schank reached base with an error to start and then sophomore third baseman Camden Gasser reached on a bunt single to put runners on first and third. After sophomore shortstop Colson Montgomery was walked, sophomore catcher Chase Taylor drove in two runs with a two-RBI single to put the Raiders up 2-0. Southridge added on to its lead in the inning as a third run crossed the plate after South Vermillion starting pitcher Connor VanLannen had a balk called on him. That would be his final pitch of the day.

While the Raiders got runners on base in the fourth and fifth innings, Southridge's other big inning would happen in the sixth. After the first rwo runners reached base, it appeared that Gasser's deep single was going to be enough to score freshman second baseman Carter Whitehead from second base. However, a good throw from South Vermillion center fielder Keegan Mackey was able to tag out Whitehead at home.

Southridge would quickly bounce back as Taylor came up big once again with a two-RBI double to put the Raiders up 4-0 and then Bell helped his own cause with a second consecutive two-RBI double to make the lead 6-0. Southridge would score its final run of the day on the third single of the game from senior right fielder Joe LaGrange as he gave the Raiders a 7-0 cushion.

"I think all throughout the lineup, if a guy ahead of you gets a hit then you almost feel pressured to get a hit," said Taylor with a laugh. "It's like you have to follow up with something. I feel like today our body language was good and no one ever got down on themselves, that played a big role in our big innings — we'd get bases loaded and keep it rolling."

Gasser added: "It just gives us momentum — tournament baseball is mostly about the momentum. When someone gets on base, it gives guys at the top of the lineup like Colson (Montgomery) and Chase (Taylor) opportunities. When they get those, we like our chances."

While Bell did allow two baserunners in the sixth inning via a base hit and a hit by pitch, he quickly shut things down with a strikeout and a groundout to end any South Vermillion threat. In the final inning, he sat the Wildcats down 1-2-3 to officially send the Raiders back to the Class 2A championship game.

The Raiders have faced their fair share of extremely tough teams on their way to the state championship — teams such as No. 2 ranked Linton, North Posey and D1 commit Shane Harris as well as South Vermillion and their 24-5 record. With just one more game on the schedule, the team feels that they're heading toward playing their very best baseball of the season at the most important time.

"I don't think we're at the rising peak yet but I feel we're pretty close to where we need to be," said Montgomery. "We have to keep building, learning in practice and have a good focus going into state."

Last year in the Class 2A title game at Victory Field, Southridge nearly rallied from a large deficit before eventually falling 5-4 to Boone Groove.  At the end of this year's regular season, the Southridge coaching staff gave all of the players T-Shirts that said #UnfinishedBusiness in big letters plastered on them.

While Southridge will once again face a very tough foe at the championship game in Alexandria-Monroe (28-6), the Raiders so far this postseason have handled difficult opponents extremely well. They're hoping they can do it one more time to bring the first ever baseball state championship trophy to the loyal fans that are affectionally known as "Raider Nation".

Southridge's Camden Gasser looks at Tucker Schank after sliding into home during Saturday's Class 2A semistate championship game at Ruxer Field in Jasper. For more photos from the game, click here.

"We were determined today — we have unfinished business from last year and that's the way we played today," LaGrange said. "Everybody was determined to focus on every pitch, every out and we were able to do just that."

Gasser added: "We're very excited because we want to bring a state title to our community. We have one more game to play — why not give it our all?" 




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