Tiger Field at Yorktown High School plays host to the Delaware County Baseball Tournament every year and 2022’s tournament opened up with two very different games. Game one, between the No. 2 in 2A baseball Wapahani Raiders (17-3) and Cowan Blackhawks (9-8) ended an inning early, and game two featured two senior pitchers committed to play collegiate baseball face off in a contest that came down to the final out, pitting the Delta Eagles (5-14) and Wes-Del Warriors (10-8) against one another.
In game two, senior Nick Crabtree, committed to Taylor University got the start on the mound for the Eagles and senior Zack Todd, committed to Indiana Wesleyan University toed the rubber for Wes-Del. Each pitcher had control early, as neither team was able to score until the fifth inning when each team got on the board but kept the game tied at 1-1.
Delta’s run was driven in by sophomore pinch hitter TD Wine, who was called up to the Varsity team midway through the 2022 season. Wine said he has played in “about half” of the games he has dressed with the Varsity team and was glad to receive an opportunity in a high-stakes contest.
“I went up with the mentality, just don't strike out and just move the baseball to advance the runners,” Wine said. “I was extremely happy because I just really wanted to help the team to give us the best chance to win.”
Wine said he didn’t have as big of a team-first mentality when he was first called up to the varsity team, however his approach changed after early struggles.
“Probably not for the whole season…closer to this point because I'm just trying to help the team out with the best chance to win,” Wine said. “Honestly, when I wasn't thinking about the best chance for the team, I was striking out a lot just trying to hit the ball as hard and as far as I could, but now I'm just trying to make contact with the ball.”
First-year Delta Baseball head coach Devin Wilburn said he called Wine up from the Junior Varsity team and brought him into the game as a pinch hitter because he was confident in Wine’s ability to put the baseball in play and make something happen.
“I called him up because he's a high contact non-strikeout guy and so he came in and actually kind of struggled a little bit,” Wilburn said. “He's the guy that I trust to move the baseball and that's kind of the theme of our offense right now.”
Although the Warriors scored a run in the top of the sixth inning via a wild pitch, Todd was unable to find the strike zone in the bottom of the sixth as his pitch count rose (116 pitches) and he walked five Eagle batters and hit one by pitch, allowing Delta to score three runs and jump out to a 4-2 lead. Todd finished after pitching five and ⅔ innings, allowing two hits, three runs, walking seven and striking out 12.
Sophomore pitcher Kayden Thomas relieved Crabtree (five innings pitched, two hits allowed, five walks and 14 strikeouts on 110 pitches) in the sixth inning and struck out the final batter to seal victory for Delta. Wilburn said the Eagles have been in close games all season but haven’t been able to finish strong, so this win felt good for Delta.
“That was kind of the monkey off the back a little bit,” Wilburn said. “I've been hoping we could play a close, tight, high energy, big atmosphere game and come out ahead because I think that'll make my guys relax a little bit. We just keep talking about how close we are, but I'm tired of saying that, and tonight we finally got one to go our way.”
Wilburn is a former Ball State University Baseball player (2011-12), under head coach Rich Maloney and said he modeled a lot of his coaching methods off of Maloney, as well as other coaches he has played for and coached with, including his high school baseball coach at Wapahani, Brian Dudley. He feels coaching his players as people is just as important as coaching them as players.
“We're trying to implement a culture here of a successful baseball program, but also building men because it's not all about winning and losing,” Wilburn said. “I want to win every game, but if you treat people the right way, the wins and losses kind of take themselves and you build men of character and that's one thing, I might lose 1000 games in my career, but if I got invited to 1000 weddings, it's just as good for me.”
For Wilburn, a Delaware County Baseball Tournament victory has always eluded him, as he was never able to win one with the Raiders and this is his first as a coach. He said with the work the Eagles have put in over the offseason and throughout the regular season, a tournament win would mean a lot to the program.
“This county tournament has always meant a lot to everybody and I never won one as a player and we had really really good teams when I was playing high school ball at Wapahani,” Wilburn said. “It would mean a lot because my guys have worked so hard. It'd be big for us in terms of saying, ‘hey, we can play ball’, we've got a talented baseball team.”
The Eagles are scheduled to face Daleville (3-15), who they beat twice earlier in the season 12-2, in a semi-final contest May 14 approximately 40 minutes after the conclusion of Saturday’s 10 a.m. game.
On to game one, where Purdue University NorthWest commit, junior pitcher Gavin Lash shone for Wapahani in their 12-1 victory. Along with multiple hits and RBIs, Lash started pitching for the Raiders, throwing six innings allowing one run, five hits, two walks and striking out five Blackhawks.
Dudley recently won his 800th game for Wapahani, an unprecedented feat in Delaware County sports, as he has been the head coach of the Raiders since 1984. Since his arrival, the Raiders have won 17 sectional championships, seven regional championships, three semi-state championships and one state championship, along with a victory in last year’s county tournament (among many others).
“Growing up we have a lot of respect for him,” Lash said. “So we just listen to everything he says because we know he pretty much knows it all.”
Although Dudley has many accolades, knows the Raiders have high expectations every year and knows Wapahani is ranked 2nd in high school baseball’s coaches poll for their class, he credits his players and coaching staff for his years of sustainability. What’s more, he always remains focused on the next game.
“You have to because sometimes you may play five games in one week, sometimes like last week because of rain we only played two, so stay ready to go for the next game,” Dudley said. “Our season is short.”
All Dudley says he is worried about after the Raiders run-rule victory over Cowan is -you guessed it- the next game.
“We have three days now to get turned back in and get this game over and get ready for Yorktown,” Dudley said. That’s the good thing about playing on Tuesday, you have some time to get ready.”
In their prior matchup earlier in the season, Wapahani defeated Cowan, although it was a much closer affair at 4-0. Cowan Baseball head coach Aaron Wells said defensive errors led to May 10’s loss spiraling out of control.
“We do something every day called 21 outs and we basically go through the game defensively and it's something we take pride in and today we just weren't sharp,” Wells said.
In the aftermath of this loss, Wells said the Blackhawks' record now internally stands at 0-0. He said he tasked his roster with “homework” after this game to better prepare them for the final stretch of the season.
“I gave them an assignment tonight that says, ‘how can we better prepare ourselves to be a better teammate? What can we do moving on as teammates to make sure that we're preparing for the end of May?’ and I have that assignment as well,” Wells said.
The Raiders compete in game one of May 14’s slate, facing Yorktown (13-7) at 10 a.m. The championship game of the tournament is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 14, however, with impending weather, look out for potential schedule changes.