Whiteland leadoff hitter Jared Adkins couldn’t recall a game in which teammate Codey Stewart pitched better.
“I’ve played with him since I was 5 years old, and this was his best outing by far,” Adkins said.
Adkins and his teammates took care of the rest as the host Warriors pulled off a 7-2 upset of Franklin Central in Tuesday’s Class 4A baseball sectional championship game.
The Flashes entered play with a 21-5 record after having defeated Center Grove 4-0 earlier Tuesday in the completion of a semifinal game that began Monday and was suspended because of rain.
Whiteland, which defeated Greenwood 3-2 in Monday’s other semifinal, took the lead for good in the fifth inning, then took control with three more sixth-inning runs en route to the victory.
The victory catapults the Warriors (11-17) into Saturday’s 4A Evansville Reitz Regional, where they’ll play Jeffersonville (22-7) at 11 a.m.
Stewart allowed a leadoff home run to Franklin Central’s Jon Knies, then an unearned run in the second inning, but settled down considerably from there.
He threw 119 pitches and struck out nine batters, including eight in the final five innings, and allowed just two of his five hits after the first two frames.
He worked his way out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning by striking out back-to-back Flashes hitters. That turned out to be Franklin Central’s last serious threat.
“He was at a point where if he got in a little bit of trouble, we were going to take him out, but he earned the right to finish that game,” Whiteland coach Scott Sherry said of Stewart.
“He was mixing his pitches well. That was our best game of the year. The seniors performed and were clutch.”
Austin Browning kept the Warriors in the game early, driving in Adkins with a first-inning RBI single, then scoring Austin Fields with another single in the third.
Entering the top of the fifth in a 2-2 tie, the Warriors, who were the visiting team on the scoreboard, seized control quickly.
Adkins led off the inning with a double to deep right-center field, then advanced to third base on a wild pitch. The next batter, Fields, drove in Adkins on an infield single that gave Whiteland the lead for good.
Wyatt Chitwood advanced Fields with a sacrifice bunt, Browning moved Fields to third with a groundout to second, and Branton Sanders plated Fields with an infield single to build the Warriors’ lead to 4-2.
Dillon Dickens and Chris Curry led off the sixth with a walk and a single, respectively.
After Franklin Central relief pitcher Jake Potee coaxed back-to-back outs, Adkins drilled a 2-1 pitch over the wall, just to the right of the 375-foot marker in center field, to extend Whiteland’s lead to 7-2.
“I was waiting for a fastball, and the pitch was up and out,” Adkins said. “I drove the ball as hard as I could. The insurance runs were big for our confidence.”
The lead proved to be more than enough for Stewart, who worked out of the sixth-inning jam, then retired the Flashes on four batters in the seventh.
When Franklin Central’s Jimmy Yates grounded to Sanders at shortstop, who fed second baseman Caleb Deiter for the game-ending force out, a wild celebration ensued, with gloves and caps all over the infield and a pile of humanity to the first-base side of the mound.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Stewart said of the sectional title. “We had a good feeling about this game all day, though.”