On paper, the Whiteland baseball team enters today’s Class 4A Evansville Reitz Regional a decided underdog.
After all, Jeffersonville, the Warriors’ semifinal opponent, is 22-7. Whiteland is 11-17.
Be that as it may, the Warriors have been called underdogs before, like prior to the sectional final win against state-ranked Franklin Central, a game Whiteland won 7-2.
“We’ve preached all year if we could put everything together we could compete with anybody,” coach Scott Sherry said during a recent practice. “All season it would be that we scored runs this game but didn’t pitch very well, or we’d pitch real well and didn’t swing
“We’ve always told them to be positive, and when it comes together you can beat anybody, and they believed it, and obviously it happened.”
Whiteland senior catcher Wyatt Chitwood said the team has been close to getting over the hump against top opposition for some time.
“We competed close with so many ranked teams this year,” he said. “We played Franklin Central during the regular season and were up 5-2 in the fifth and kind of fell apart. Against Columbus North we also competed well and then kind of lost it at the end.
“Shelbyville was in the top 10, and we were up, and just because of some mental things we lost the game.”
According to Sherry, the difference of late has been attitude and senior leadership.
“The team concept has come around here these last few weeks of the season,” he said. “We’ve been really pulling and cheering for each other and not being so self-interested like ‘I struck out and now I’m going to pout and whine.’ Instead it’s more like ‘This next guy is going to pick me up.’ Also, our seniors have made a difference.
“This time of year, if you have seniors who will fight and compete, you are going to have a chance; and just starting with two great senior pitching performances at the sectional, we have had that.”
The pitching came from Jared Adkins and Codey Stewart, who picked up wins in the sectional semifinal and final, respectively.
Stewart said familiarity has helped build the team’s togetherness.
“We have great team chemistry. We hang out together a lot,” Stewart said. “We’ve been together for a while now. As seniors we’ve all played together for a long time now, and I know the juniors have as well.”
Chitwood and junior shortstop Branton Sanders said Sherry himself, who teaches at Clark-Pleasant Intermediate School, plays a role in that positive team environment.
“I had him as a teacher in the sixth grade and I loved him,” Sanders said. “Getting to play for him in high school has been a blast. He just expects us to come out and play hard and have fun. It’s never really a bad time out here. It’s always fun.”
“Even when we go to team dinners and stuff away from the field, he’s still a great guy,” he said. “He expects us to try hard and do our best, but if we do that we know he’s not going to be upset with us if it doesn’t work out.”
Sherry cited pitcher/center fielder Jared Atkins and outfielder Austin Fields as a key one-two punch at the top of the Whiteland batting order. Chitwood catches and bats third, with junior first baseman Austin Browning hitting cleanup for most games.
Sanders hits fifth at shortstop, with outfielder Dillon Dickens in the No. 6 slot. Christian Curry hits seventh and shares time between third base and designated hitter. Jackson Tinkle hits eighth and plays outfield and third base, with Caleb Dieter playing second base and batting ninth.