By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Jeffersonville pitcher Conner Christopher dodged more horns than a Spanish bullfighter, sidestepping each Bedford North Lawrence charge with a slick move and a wave of his red flag. His dangerous dance around trouble earned his team a sectional championship.
Christopher, in constant jeopardy, got the big outs as Jeffersonville went home with the big title, stopping the Stars 7-2 in the Class 4A sectional final on Monday afternoon.
Jeff senior catcher Devyn Rivers had 3 hits, Jack Ellis had a huge 2-run single in a decisive 3-run fifth inning, and Blayden McMahel cranked a 2-run home run as the Red Devils (22-6) won their second straight sectional crown at BNL’s expense.
Jeffersonville advanced to the regional at Evansville, awaiting Columbus East (a 5-3 winner over Columbus North in the sectional at East Central) in the second game on June 1, while the Stars bowed out at 20-11.
BNL will lament the wasted scoring chances. The Stars followed the old baseball adage of getting them on, getting them over . . . but didn’t complete the phrase by getting enough of them in. BNL left 11 runners on base, including 7 in scoring position. Christopher (4-3) shrugged off most of the threats, firing 118 pitches before leaving with two outs in the seventh.
“They had some big hits in key situations, and unfortunately we didn’t,” BNL coach Jeff Callahan said. “What this game comes down to is making plays, making pitches and clutch hits. Hats off to Jeffersonville. That’s a good baseball team and they’re moving on.”
The Devils, who also tormented the Stars 11-1 to win the Hoosier Hills Conference title earlier this month, scored first, punching three singles together against BNL ace Garrett Watson (7-2). But the Stars answered that in the third as Ethan Baer and Evan Waggoner stroked singles, and Logan Shelton delivered a two-out RBI hit.
Jeffersonville plated an unearned run in the fourth as Rivers singled, and pinch runner Dylan Robinson scampered to third when Watson’s pick-off attempt went wide down the first-base line. He scored on Ben Harbeson’s sacrifice fly to shallow right-center.
The game-changing moment came in the fourth. With the base loaded, Waggoner lofted a foul ball near the fence down the left-field line. Jeff shortstop Kannon Stull, at full speed, slid across the bullpen mound and made a tremendous catch for the third out.
“Unbelievable play,” Callahan said. “They took that momentum. When you wins championships, you have to have plays like that.”
Jeff turned that momentum into runs in the fifth as Jack Ellis smacked a two-run single and Rivers followed with a RBI single (off the fence in deep center). McMahel, who drove in four runs in the semifinal win over New Albany, blasted his homer to left in the seventh.
The Stars added a run in the final frame on Watson’s double.
Jeffersonville was guilty of 3 errors, but flashed leather when necessary. In addition to Stull’s remarkable play, McMahel saved a run at second base when he snagged a wide throw from Ellis at third base and tagged out a runner.
“If that thing goes in the outfield, who knows what’s going to happen,” Jeffersonville coach Derek Ellis said. “That could be a big inning, and that has plagued us in our six losses. That’s what I was hoping would not happen in this game.”
McMahel and Drew Taylor added 2 hits each as Jeff totaled 10. BNL matched that number as Waggoner had 3 while Watson and Shelton both had two. They just didn’t come at the right times.
“It’s a tough game,” Callahan said. “Hitting is tough thing. They got the clutch hits when they needed.”
Christopher struck out 4 but didn’t walk a batter. He gave up double-digit hits (9 singles, and BNL had at least 10 in all three sectional games) but avoided the big mistake.
“He did a fantastic job,” Ellis said as a bucket of ice water descended on his back, part of the traditional postgame celebration for victors. “I like the way he kept his composure. When things start to get sideways, what are we going to do to regroup?
“Winning this sectional, I’ll put it up against any in the state. There are tough teams. It’s extreme pride. To be able to do it back-to-back with a team that’s relatively inexperienced, it’s a pretty big statement.”