NEW CASTLE -- The Clay County 15-year-old Babe Ruth All-Star baseball team played late and traveled many miles over the course of the state championship tournament in New Castle. However, it was all worth it as the team edged Batesville by a 4-3 score in an 11-inning marathon that ended close to midnight on Sunday evening.
Conner Ganly's game-winning base hit scored Bubby Dickison to start the celebration for the Clay County squad.
"When the hit hit the ground, I was jumping up and down like I shouldn't be and I turned around and here (the kids) all came to home plate to greet the winning run," coach Kent Bass said. "Bubby Dickison made two outstanding defensive plays in the game to begin with and to get that hit to get us started in the 11th and then to score the winning run. Conner Ganly got the winning hit, Damon Bass got the bunt down and Joe Ball got a hit. All in one inning we got the bats going in the long game that we had."
Batesville had a serious threat going in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and no outs. However, a line drive that looked destined to bring home the go-ahead run was instead snagged by a sliding Dickison in left field. He then doubled off the runner as Clay County escaped the threat.
In the 11th inning, Batesville had runners on second and third with two outs and lead off hitter, Nick Kirschner, who was 4-for-5 to that point in the game. Bass opted not to intentionally walk Kirschner and Damon Bass struck him out on three straight curveballs.
Clay County got three hits from Ball in the game and two hits each from Ganly, Conner Pierce and Kyle Moore. Ganly and Tanner Wilson each had RBI's in the title game victory.
Ball got the start on the mound, pitching three hitless innings, striking out three. Pierce threw the next four innings with five strikeouts before giving way to Bass, who went the final four innings to get the win. Bass struck out six while allowing four hits.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the team's victory is that the Clay County team featured several 14-year-old players mixed into the team's 15-year-old players.
"It's actually a 15-and-under tourney, but we had some 14's on the team because that age group didn't have enough to play. This is their last year at Clay Youth League to play in a state championship tourney.
"(The support) was great," Bass added in regards to the fans that made the long trip to New Castle. "We had some grandparents from the north coming down and we had two parents, who had kids playing with the 11-year olds and it's a pretty good drive coming from Kentucky. For 70 or 80 people, they made a lot of noise."
The fans had plenty to cheer about during the tourney as Clay County won six contests over the course of pool and bracket play. In advancing to the Sunday title game, Clay County defeated Noblesville 11-8 behind three hits apiece from Pierce and Moore and three RBI from Dickison.
All told, Clay County got RBI's from seven different players in the team effort.
Austin Butts had two hits and an RBI, Easton Booe had a pinch-hit RBI, Moore had a double and two RBI and Wilson contributed a double and an RBI.
Pitching was a big part of Clay County's six wins as the team allowed just 18 runs over six games and remarkably, gave up just nine walks while striking out 50 batters.
Ball won four games with a 1.74 ERA over 20 2/3 innings with 24 strikeouts and just three walks. Damon Bass got two pitching wins in nine innings of work and Pierce was an important pitcher after suffering some shoulder tendinitis in the spring and competing with a brace on his arm during tourney play. Pierce threw 11 innings, striking out 12 and walking just three.
At the plate, Pierce pounded the ball with 13 hits in 19 at-bats, smacking four doubles, a triple and a pair of homeruns and driving in 11. Ganly hit .391 for Clay County with four RBI and Wilson hit .350 with five RBI and drew four walks to tie for the team lead with Pierce. Ball was a .391 hitter in 23 at-bats with a home run and five RBI and four stolen bases. Hunter Slack also had an RBI and Bo Stewart hit .300 with a pair of doubles and two RBI. Austin Butts contributed a .316 average and five RBI.
Bass credited the Clay Youth League for producing players with a strong foundation for success at the next levels.
"Baseball has been big in this town every since I grew up and played in the CYL," Bass said of the league's success. "We didn't play as many games back then. The coaches, the players and parents are into playing and they go everywhere and are playing somewhere every weekend. With these kids playing 25-30 games over the spring and summer, it really develops their skills. It's a great feeder system for the program over at Northview and it always has been."
Unfortunately for the Clay County squad, the team won't have the opportunity to move on to the regional level as IHSAA rules don't allow more than five players from the same high school to play on the same team once the first day of fall practices begin. High School practices for boys begin on Aug. 1 with the first day of football, boys' tennis and soccer and regional play continues beyond that date in Babe Ruth play.