Top-10 Stories of 2019: No. 5 Hamilton Southeastern Captures First Baseball State Championship

Phil Wade
Indiana Executive Director

The Hamilton Southeastern Royals were finally able to call themselves 'State Champions' after snapping the Columbus East Olympians 12-game winning streak in the 4A state title game back in June. HSE won 3-2 on a walk-off fielder's choice double-play throwing error in the bottom of the seventh. 

Rich Torres
PBR Indiana Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS – Ken Seitz didn’t want to disappoint despite his instinctive hesitation to avoid the spotlight.

Synonymous with Hamilton Southeastern baseball for more than four decades, Seitz had to be the first to hoist the Class 4A state championship trophy at Victory Field on late Monday night.

The No. 20 Royals refused to let their first-ever state title celebration unfold any other way.

After upsetting No. 6 Columbus East 3-2 with a walk-off fielder’s choice double-play throwing error in the bottom of the seventh, Seitz, a 2001 Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, was the first person the players called to the forefront, and rightfully so.

A head coach at HSE for 25 years and a former athletic director, Seitz has been a part of the program for 44 years overall, including the past nine as an assistant, and with the Royals’ homefield named after the legendary mainstay, his place in history was essential to players both new and old.

“I’m not very good at stuff like that, so I didn’t know what to do, but I don’t think they were going to let me not do it,” Seitz confessed after he proudly handed the trophy off to a joyful scrum of Royals. “I had to keep those guys happy as I always do. It was cool.”

It was scripted perfectly for the Royals, who were making their first state finals appearance in school history and capped their magical journey with their 11th straight victory.

Able to overcome a lengthy delayed game start time due to rain and a pair of ties, HSE (23-8) snapped the Olympians’ (25-5) 12-game winning streak behind the strength of their two Division-I aces and a gritty season-long identity that paved the way to a memorable finale.

“All year long, they have been resilient and bounce back from games,” Seitz said. “That’s just the way these guys play. They play hard and they give 100 percent and they get it all done.”

Through the first three innings, the Royals built two one-run leads with RBI singles from senior catcher Jack DeWolf in the bottom of the first and third. With the game deadlocked 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh, senior Anthony Eggers set HSE’s decisive rally in motion.

Eggers, who had gone 0-for-3 prior to the seventh, watched as leadoff hitter Cole DeWael struck out looking on six pitches. Down 0-1, Eggers muscled the ball opposite field into shallow left field to get on base.

He advanced to second base on a fielding error that put Brayton Harrison on first before Akron commit Greyson Droste worked a 1-1 count into a game-winning error.

“This being my last game ever and being 0-for-3, I was like I want something to happen,” Eggers said. “I had to get on. I didn’t care if it was a hit or not. It happened, and I was excited to get on. The rest was history.”

Droste sliced a grounder to Olympians’ second baseman Ben Major, who flipped the ball to second where shortstop Jonah Wichman putout Harrison, but his throw to first to potentially end the inning sailed while Eggers motored around third base and into home.

“I was running to third hard, just rounded and everything just went silent,” Eggers said. “I scored, and I turned around thinking, did we even win? It was so quiet. I didn’t even feel like we won because I thought it was a delay of game or something until my whole team came and tackled me. It was just crazy, and I’m happy the way it ended. It couldn’t have ended any better.”

With the mantra “Why Not Us?” motivating HSE all season, the Royals answered their own question in the state finals while Xavier recruit Michael Dillon went 4.0 innings, scattering four hits, walking five and striking out three with two charged runs until Ball State commit Tyler Schweitzer stymied the Olympians through the final three innings.

Schweitzer entered in relief after Dillon allowed a leadoff single to Wichman in the top of the fifth, followed by a walk to Miami (Ohio) commit Dalton Back.

A perfectly placed bunt from Parker Harrison with two outs in the fifth tied the game 2-2 before Schweitzer slammed the door. The power left-hander induced a pop up to DeWael in centerfield to end the inning, and he retired seven straight to improve to 9-2.

“I just wanted to get my job done coming in with no outs and runners on first and third. That’s pretty stressful but getting that first guy out gave a real confidence booster to me,” Schweitzer said. “When I got that second guy out, it was unbelievable really.”

Schweitzer struck out four down the stretch, including three straight in the top of the seventh after his defense came to his aid in the top of the sixth with two catches in foul territory.

Droste slid to snare a dying fly down the first base line, and senior Cam Bolling hauled in a pop up against the railing for the third out of the inning.

In the seventh, Schweitzer took matters into his own hands, striking out the Olympians’ top of the order in Wichman, Back and Wright State commit Julian Greenwell, who went down swinging.

“I was all in the moment right there. I didn’t hear anything around the crowd. It was just me and Jack (DeWolf),” Schweitzer said. “I just went out there and it was a blur honestly.”

The Olympians had an early opportunity to take the lead in the top of the first after Back drilled a one-out triple over the head of DeWael into deep centerfield. Dillon, however, regrouped quickly, inducing a groundout and a popup to right field to leave Back stranded.

Back was held at third base as Greenwell grounded sharply to HSE second baseman Jake Huston, who fielded the ball cleanly and got the putout at first base.

The Royals turned their initial scoring chance into a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first.

DeWael led off the inning with a lined double to right field on the first pitch before Harrison drew a one-out walk. DeWolf drove in DeWael from third, who advanced on a passed ball, with an RBI single to left field past the diving arm of Ben Major.

HSE left two runners on base when Huston struck out swinging on Cole Gilley’s third straight offering to escape the jam.

The Royals tried to manufacture a two-out rally in the bottom of the second, but Gilley once again ended the threat. Bolling dropped an opposite field single into right and DeWael drew a seven-pitch walk. Gilley later got Eggers to ground out back to the mound to strand two runners for a second straight frame.

Gilley struck out six, walked three and allowed six hits over 6.0 innings. Greenwell took over in the bottom of the seventh, but Eggers put the Royals in position to win.

“It’s fitting that we had rain. It’s fitting that it went down to the wire. Just more times than not we’ve come out winners in these types of ball games,” HSE head coach Jeremy Sassanella said. “I’m incredibly proud of the kids.”

Columbus East finally broke through in the top of the third with two outs. Dillon tried to end the inning against Back, but the right-handed slugger worked a five-pitch walk. Greenwell followed up with an RBI single to right field to score Clayton Taylor, who led off the inning with a single and moved around the horn on a sac bunt and groundout.

Gilley loaded the bases with a two-out walk, but Dillon got Parker Harrison to flyout to left field to keep the game tied 1-1.

DeWolf, who finished 2-for-3 with two RBI, came to the rescue for HSE in the bottom of the third with an RBI single to center field, scoring Harrison from second base to put the Royals ahead 2-1.

HSE stranded two runners on base in three of the first four innings, including two on with two outs in the bottom of the fourth.

“For us to win the sectional and then the regional, we were going to need everybody,” Sassanella said. “It was incredibly fitting that we needed them both (Michael and Tyler), and they were amazing.”

The Olympians tied the game 2-2 in the top of the fifth, chasing Dillon before being relieved by Schweitzer with two runners on base and a 2-1 lead.

“Tyler has been unbelievably sharp, but over the course of the tournament, he hadn’t been quite as sharp since the sectional. That’s part of the reason we started Michael (Dillon) tonight,” Sassanella said. “Tyler was amazing tonight. Tyler was probably on the biggest stage of his life, and he was probably the sharpest we’ve seen him. And we’ve seen him pretty sharp.”

HSE outhit Columbus East 7-5, but Schweitzer and two of the Olympians’ three errors proved the difference.

“That is the best baseball team we’ve played all year long,” Sassanella said. “HSE baseball has been a quality program for a long, long time, to be blessed to come in and to ask them to get behind where we believed we could go, and the things we needed to do to become a high-caliber program, I hope this is just the start. But to see this energy and the proudest thing is the watch these kids play as they have.”

The Royals relished their victory with the same enthusiasm, especially as Seitz’s No. 15 jersey was selected by the players to commemorate the win inside the coveted championship locker displayed along the Victory Field concourse.

“When you think Hamilton Southeastern baseball, you think Ken Seitz,” HSE athletic director Jim Self said. “The field is named after him, and I just think it was so important for our kids to let him be the first to grab that trophy.”

Seitz’s smile showed his gratitude while his daughter and team statistician Kristy, wife Kathy and son Kory, an assistant coach watched on during the festivities.

“Forty-four years to get to this point. A lot of close ones, and I couldn’t have done it with a better bunch of young guys out there,” Seitz said. “They were so much fun to be with. There was a lot of emotion and a lot of kids who really care for one another and their coaches out there. It’s just a great night for me.”

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