Domination on mound lifts Braves to title

DANVILLE

Indian Creek’s batters struggled against top-line pitching Monday in the Class 3A Danville Sectional, but the Braves’ pitching more than made up for it and delivered a championship.

Trevor Ankney outdueled Danville’s Jackson Wynn as the Braves scraped by with a 1-0 win in the semifinal, and then Eric Braughton turned in a dominating performance on the mound to help Indian Creek edge Beech Grove 1-0 and help the Braves defend their sectional title.

Indian Creek (14-7-1) will face Tri-West on Saturday in the Crawfordsville Regional. The game site has yet to be determined because a fence at Crawfordsville’s field suffered storm damage last week, which forced its sectional to move to neighboring North Montgomery.

Wherever they play, the Braves figure to bring an army of solid pitchers. Including Thursday’s 14-1 win against Greencastle, Indian Creek pitchers struck out 35 batters in sectional play, allowing just seven hits and one run in three games.

“We know that’s our strong point,” Indian Creek coach Eddy Willis said. “It’s glaringly obvious where we’re weak. I liked everything about how Eric pitched. I felt like it was a dominant performance.”

Braughton struck out 14, walked only two and allowed two hits, one of which could have been called an error (a seventh-inning infield single). Nine of his strikeouts were called third strikes.

“Our assistant coach is good with stats, and he talked to me about (Beech Grove’s) percentage of strikeouts,” Braughton said. “He told me to pound the strike zone, that they were less aggressive at the plate.”

Dustin Sprong’s first-inning double, a long shot that landed on the warning track in right-center field and rolled to the wall, scored Max Walls with the Braves’ only run in the championship game. Braughton took over from there.

Beech Grove’s only serious scoring threat came in the third inning, when Braughton walked consecutive batters with one out. He then induced a groundout and collected a strikeout to snuff out the threat.

“Our hitting will come; that’s just how baseball is,” Braughton said. “I believe if we pitch like this, we’ll be unstoppable.”

As good as Ankney pitched in Monday’s semifinal against Danville, the Warriors’ Wynn was matching his effort. Ankney struck out 12, didn’t walk a batter and allowed just three hits. Wynn whiffed 13 and allowed just four hits, but his one mistake cost Danville the game.

With two out, an 0-2 count on Sprong and courtesy runner Avery Welch standing at third base for the Braves, Wynn uncorked a wild pitch. The ball bounded past Danville catcher Tarron Lawson and ricocheted off the backstop, and Welch easily beat Lawson’s throw to the plate.

Ankney nearly suffered a similar fate in the bottom of the seventh. He hit Lawson, the leadoff batter, then threw wild to first base when the next batter, Nik Johnson, attempted a sacrifice bunt. With runners on first and second and none out, he got Gavin Hensley to fly out to left field, then struck out Isaac McGregor and Collin Rutan to end it.

Ankney used his curveball to lock up Danville batters for several of his strikeouts, including the final two pitches to Rutan.

“That’s him,” Willis said of Ankney’s ability to pitch through adversity. “That’s what I tell people who are recruiting him. If he makes a mistake, he comes right back.”

The sectional championship is the fourth in the program’s history, and this marks the first time the Braves have won back-to-back sectional crowns. They also won titles in 1971 and 1973.

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Adam Wire is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.