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Grizzly Cubs top Franklin Central for sectional title, break 18-year drought


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The Triple Crown may be a great achievement in horse racing.

For Franklin Community High School’s baseball team, that trifecta is just a matter of warming up.

The Grizzly Cubs, already Mid-State Conference and Johnson County Tournament champions, out-dueled tough Franklin Central, 3-1, to add a third title this season by winning the Class 4A Whiteland Sectional on Monday night.

“That Triple Crown feels really amazing,” winning pitcher Jeremy McKinney said of the team’s three trophies, capped by the school’s first Sectional crown in 18 years. “Since 1995, wow. It’s been a while.”

 

Franklin (17-9) will play the winner of the game between No. 1 Floyd Central and No. 8 Jeffersonville in the Evansville Reitz Regional at noon Saturday. Afternoon winners will meet for the title that night.

“It’s an awesome accomplishment for our guys,” second-year head coach Paul Strack said. “It is just tremendous. You can’t say enough how hard these individuals have worked to put things together for us.”

In the title game, McKinney scattered four hits and struck out six in shutting down the Flashes, who blasted Center Grove, 12-0, in the Monday’s semifinal.

“That’s what we get out of Jeremy every time,” Strack said. “He’s going to come out and battle. He gives us every absolute chance to win the game.”

Franklin Central (21-7) could never put together more than one hit in an inning but did break through in the second. A leadoff walk and single up the middle put runners at first and second. A sacrifice moved the runners over, and Danny Cronin’s ground-out made it 1-0.

From there, McKinney would allow only one more hit over the final 5 2/3 innings, mixing a wicked curveball with an inside fastball that kept hitters guessing.

“My team battled. That’s what we do,” said the senior, who improved to 8-2. “I did not want to give up another run.”

McKinney’s performance was the second stellar outing of the day for Franklin. Evan Giles pitched a 3-0 shutout over Whiteland in Monday’s semifinals.

The Grizzly Cubs got all the runs they needed in the fourth.

Shortstop Jacob Baldridge led off with a double and scored when Max Hensley’s sacrifice bunt resulted in an errant throw to first. A batter later, Cody Fowler’s double brought home Hensley to put Franklin up for good at 2-1.

“I had two strikes in both of those at bats,” said Baldridge, who added an RBI double an inning later to push it to 3-1. “I just battled and squared up on a couple of good pitches.”

The junior’s second double scored center fielder Ryan Torrance and gave McKinney a dose of confidence.

“That shot to the left center gap was amazing,” said the pitcher, who will play for the University of Cincinnati next year. “That really got me excited. I knew I had to go out there and finish the game.”

Indeed, McKinney battled a dose of wildness as the Flashes tried to rally in the bottom of the seventh, hitting one batter and walking another to bring the potential winning run to the plate with two out.

“I just wanted to remind him that we’ve got a good defense, and if he just puts it in play, we’re going to make good things happen behind him,” Strack said of a visit to the mound before McKinney induced a game-ending ground ball to Hensley. “That’s what happened.”

What followed was a celebration waiting since 1995, when Franklin won its last of four sectionals. Fans who had cheered the Cubs’ comeback lined the field to take pictures of the team hoisting the IHSAA trophy at home plate.

“It feels great,” said Baldridge, who is one of many Cubs not even alive for the last crown. “Ever since I’ve been in the program, that’s what we’ve talked about. It’s been 15 years, it’s been 18 years, it’s been before I was born. I don’t even know how to describe it.”

Don’t think the indescribable feeling is one this team is ready to give up, even after a difficult triple crown already this season.

“We’re not retiring at all,” McKinney said in reference to the life of equine Triple Crown winners. “We’re going to keep pushing, we’re going to keep playing, we’re going to keep going as hard as we can.”

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