State 4A Championship at Victory Field: Rebels Edge Eagles 3-2 in Bottom of 9th

By Pete Cava
PBR Indiana Correspondent 
INDIANAPOLIS – With two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth Friday night, Will Harris beat out an infield hit that scored pinch-runner Mark Cobb with the deciding run as the Roncalli Rebels upended the Zionsville Eagles for the IHSAA Class 4A title. 
The record crowd of 6,799 fans on hand at Victory Field got its money’s worth in a contest that saw No. 1-ranked Zionsville (30-5-1) go up 1-0 and 2-1, only to see the gritty Roncalli squad (23-9) battle back both times.   
“It was just an incredible game.  It could have gone either way,” said Aaron Kroll, Roncalli’s second-year coach.  “We found a way to get it done.  Our guys have been resilient down the stretch, really a completely different team since sectionals hit.  And they just refused to lose again today.” 
Sixteen games into this season, Roncalli’s record stood at nine wins and seven losses. The Rebels won 14 of 16 since then. 
Two of the state's top right-handers, Nick Prather of Zionsville and Roncalli's Michael McAvene, took the hill Friday night.  Prather is a Florida Atlantic University recruit, while McAvene, who decommitted from Purdue after the departure of long-time Boilermaker coach Doug Schreiber, announced after the game that he has committed to Louisville.
Prather and McAvene swapped goose eggs through the first three innings.  
Roncalli squandered an opportunity in the bottom of the second.  With one out, Blake Chitwood beat out a dribbler to the left of the plate and went to second on a wild throw by Zionsville's catcher.  
Dylan Williams followed with a line single to left that sent Chitwood to third.  But as he rounded the bag, Zionsville first baseman Jordan Cox cut off the throw home from left fielder Jack Pilcher and pegged the ball to third baseman Chad Garisek, who tagged Chitwood for the out.
Prather treated himself to a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth.  Nolan Elsbury led off and was hit by a pitch.  After stealing second, Elsbury went to third on Drew Bertram's ground out.  Elsbury rode home when Prather singled through a drawn-in Roncalli infield.
Roncalli made it 1-all in the bottom of the fifth.  Cody Smith started the frame with a base on balls and Brian Keeney ran for him.  After Prather fanned the next man, Roncalli designated hitter Dylan Williams drilled a two-base hit down the third-base line.  With runners on second and third, Keeney came home on a wild pitch to even the score.
One out later, with Williams ninety feet from home plate, Tyler Lucas sent a grounder up the middle.  Zionsville second baseman Drew Bertram ranged to his left, gloved the ball, spun around and fired to first for an eye-popping play that ended the Roncalli threat.
The Eagles pulled ahead once more in the top of the sixth.  Jacob Hurtubise led off with a first-pitch single.  Nolan Elbury followed with a bunt toward third, and when the throw to first was off the mark, Hurtubise raced to third.
With Drew Bertram at the plate, McAvene uncorked a wild pitch that scored Hurtubise for a 2-1 Zionsville advantage.
Roncalli fought back in the bottom of the sixth to knot the score again.  Jack Meyer replaced Prather on the mound for Zionsville, and the right-hander issued a walk to the first man he faced, Hayden Harper.  Meyer retired the next two Rebel batters, but Nick Schnell sent a drive to deep left-center that fell for a triple as Harper came in for a 2-2 tie.
That ended Meyer's night.  Jack Pilcher moved from left field to the mound for Zionsville and got the final out.  When neither side scored in the seventh, the game went into extra innings.
McAvene departed in the top of the eighth after a leadoff single by Riley Bertram.  Conrad Daniel came in from the Roncalli bullpen and retired the first man he faced.  After a balk, Zionsville loaded the bases on infield error and an intentional walk to Drew Bertram.
With Roncalli playing in, Prather grounded to shortstop Jake Franklin.  Franklin knocked down the ball and fired to home plate for the force.  Daniel got the next batter on a fly ball to right to get the Rebels out of the fix.
Pilcher threw a perfect eighth inning for Zionsville, and Daniel countered for Roncalli with a three-up, three-down top of the ninth.
Pilcher was still on the mound for the Eagles in the bottom of the inning, when Franklin beat out a slow roller to second.  Pilcher retired the next two Roncalli batters, with Franklin advancing to second on an infield out.
Mark Cobb ran for Franklin at second base, and after a walk to Blake Chitwood, the runners moved up on a wild pitch.  When Zionsville coach Jered Moore ordered an intentional walk to Dylan Williams, Roncalli had the bases loaded.   
That brought Will Harris to the plate, and on a 1-2 pitch, the senior right fielder sent a grounder to the hole on the left side.  Zionsville's shortstop and third baseman bumped on the play, and as Harris beat the throw to first, Cobb flew home with the deciding run.
“I looked back, even though I shouldn’t have,” admitted Cobb, “and I saw my boy Will was there, and I threw my helmet up.  It was a great feeling.  It was a tough battle, and we’re state champions now.  It’s surreal.  I cannot believe it!” 
“I made contact and I was running as fast as I could to get to first base,” said Harris.  “I made it before the ball, it was considered a hit, and I was more than happy.  It was the best feeling in the world, watching the whole Roncalli Rebels team just swarm over me.” 
“I thought it had a chance off the bat, because it was kind of a high hopper in the hole,” Coach Kroll said.  “I’m just thrilled for Will, that he did a really good job in putting the ball in play with two strikes.  It was just one of those balls that happened to be right in the middle between shortstop and third baseman.  They kind of collided and allowed Will to be safe at first.  Just an unbelievable ending to the game.” 
Harris said the victory made up for the disappointment of a 21-0 loss to East Central in last autumn’s 4A semistate football game.  Harris played in that contest, along with Rebels third baseman Robbie Strader, shortstop Jake Franklin and first baseman Tyler Lucas.  “That drove us even more to want to make it in baseball,” said Harris.
Roncalli collected six hits, two by Dylan Williams.
McAvene and Daniel (6-0), who got the win, combined on a five-hitter.  Pilcher (5-1) took the tough-luck loss.
In a post-game television interview, McAvene announced his commitment to the University of Louisville.
The two-hour, 47-minute contest began under clear skies with temperatures in the mid-80s and a slight breeze out toward left.
Around the bases:  After the game, IHSAA’s Executive Committee named Zionsville center fielder Jacob Hurtubise as this year’s Class 4A L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award recipient.  The son of Francois and Lisa Hurtubise, Jacob was an All-State performer this season and ranked tenth in his graduating class with a 3.93 GPA.  He will enter the U.S. Military Academy this fall. 
This was Zionsville's first state championships appearance.  The Eagles came to Victory Field with a microscopic staff earned run average of 1.37.
For Roncalli, the third time around was a charm.  The Rebels lost to LaPorte 7-1 at Bush Stadium in1982 (before IHSAA went to class baseball), and dropped a 1-0 heart-breaker to Lake Central in the 2012 4A championship game at Victory Field.
Both teams lost to Brebeuf Jesuit during the regular season.  The Braves beat Roncalli 5-4 at Grand Park in Westfield on April 12, and topped Zionsville 9-3 at the same location on May 19.
Saturday's schedule at Victory Field:
1:00 p.m. - Class A:  Daleville (20-9) vs. Lanesville (15-11).
4:00 p.m. - Class 2A:  Lafayette Central Catholic (33-1) vs. Providence (26-3).
7:00 p.m. - Class 3A:  Western (18-13) vs. Northview (24-6).
Pete Cava is the author of Indiana-Born Major League Baseball Players:  A Biographical Dictionary, 1871-2014, now available from McFarland Publishers