It was a hot July day in 1966. The Waynetown pool was crowded to capacity with screaming and laughing kids. Across the driveway on the Waynetown baseball field, John Groves was down the line finishing his warmup pitches to Mike Mutterspaugh. Steve Snelling was on the mound getting in his last five warm-up pitchers to Dave Yerkes while Mark Maxwell waited patiently in the on deck circle. It was 1:00 p.m. and time for the first pitch. Nobody would have guessed that the last pitch of the game would be four hours later when John Groves would throw the final pitch in the longest game in Montgomery County history. It was a marathon 17-inning game that both pitchers would start and finish and both catchers would do the same. Maxwell also noted that there were no dugouts at the Waynetown diamond. Players could not get out of the hot July sun even when their team was at bat. At one point Maxie turned to his teammate Don Threlkeld and mentioned how nice it would be to be in the pool. The focus of sophomores tends to stray sometimes. Maxwell and Threlkeld both batted nine times that day. They would go on to be the Darlington keystone combination for four straight years, playing every game together.
The County began to crown a baseball champion in 1934 when New Market won the first championship. From that time until consolidation in 1971, the Boys of Summer played in the summer and in the fall after school started. It is a little difficult to tell whether the champions were summer champions, playoff champions or fall champions. The old newspapers were not always very specific. From what we can discover, Darlington won more County crowns that any other school as they won in 1946, 1951, 1952, 1954, 1956, 1957, and 1966. Alamo was second in number of wins as the Warriors won in 1936, 1937, 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1947. Waynetown won in 1935 and 1945, so Darlington was always the team to beat.
On this particular July day, it didn’t matter who the favorite was. Steve Snelling and John Groves were on their game. Snelling would strike out 22 in the classic and Groves would fan 28. Nobody kept track of pitches in those days, but a conservative estimate for each hurler would be in the 175 to 200 pitch range. According to Mike Mutterspaugh, the Darlington catcher, Dick Bruner, the Darlington coach kept asking Groves from the 7th inning on if he wanted to come out. John Groves who was a big strong farm boy who always had to get his chores done before thinking about baseball, just kept saying, “Naw, I’m all right.” Mutterspaugh knew that John was going to finish what he started. I imagine that the same conversation was going on in the Waynetown dugout even though Steve Snelling, Dave Yerkes and Coach Tom Bowerman are all gone and can’t share that with us. Mike remembered that after the game that he was “a tired little puppy.” He was still some weeks shy of being sixteen. He said that his right index finger was so swollen from catching John’s heavy fast ball that he couldn’t bend it. John also remembers throwing a knuckle curve and a knuckle ball. However, his catcher said that John’s bread and butter pitch was a fast ball that was consistently in the high 80s to low 90s. Mutterspaugh knew what a 90 mile an hour fast ball looked like because he went to Milligan College in Tennessee after high school and caught and faced pitchers who were clocked at 90 miles an hour on the Jugs gun. Mike shared with me that he was amazed that John didn’t lose much velocity during the game. He was still throwing hard at the end. Mike was in the unusual position to know both pitchers well and characterized them both as very intense and real competitors. Pat Fay played second base for Waynetown that day and he echoed Mutterspaugh’s comments. He remembers seeing some blazing fast balls from Groves and remembers his old teammate Steve Snelling as a great competitor who never gave in. Fay said that he had spent a lot of time working on farms around Waynetown, but he had never been as tired as he was after the game.
Along with 50 strikeouts, the stat line for the game included 8 hits for Darlington and 5 for Waynetown. Groves walked one and Snelling walked eight. Steve Snelling had two hits for Waynetown and Steve Weliever had two Darlington. According to Butch Dale who wrote an article about the game for the Darlington Herald, “Darlington threatened three times during the marathon, once in the seventh, once in the tenth, and once in the fourteenth. All threats were cut short when the runners were thrown out at the plate on fine Gladiator defensive plays.” He concluded, “The Indians finally broke loose in the 17th inning on three hits, an error and two passed balls to take the game 4-0.” That ended the longest baseball game in Montgomery County history.
When the IHSAA introduced sectional play in baseball modeled after the single class basketball system with sectionals, regionals and semi-states leading up to a single state champion, The Darlington Indians were ready and waiting for their chance to compete with the big boys. From 1967 to consolidation in 1971, Darlington either won or played for the sectional championship every year. The Indians had already won or shared seven Montgomery County championships winning outright in 1946, 1951, 1952, 1954, 1956, and 1957. They won the regular season crown in 1966 and lost in the playoffs to Waveland.
In the 1967 sectional, Darlington lost to Crawfordsville 5-2. Crawfordsville went on to the Lafayette Regional and beat Benton Central 9-2 before losing to Lafayette Jeff 2-0. Spurred by the loss to Crawfordsville in 1967, the Indians beat Waynetown in the championship game 8-3 of the 1968 sectional and went on to Loeb Stadium in Lafayette to lose to Frankfort in the regional 6-2. The Indians won that year despite losing three senior starters, Bill Douglas, John Groves, and Mike Mutterspaugh who had to go on the senior trip.
Darlington repeated in 1969 defeating Linden 9-1 before once again losing to Frankfort in the regional 4-1. Crawfordsville reclaimed the title in 1970 and defeated Darlington 3-1 in 1971 to win the final sectional before consolidation.
The Darlington Indians had a great run of baseball success in the years leading up to consolidation. Mark Maxwell, a four year starter on the 1969 team, along with Don Threlkeld, recalls that baseball was the only game in town in the summer and that Jim Spencer drilled them on fundamentals in Little League and Pony League during those early days. In the four years from 1966 to 1969, the Indians went 15-6 and 16-2 under Coach Dick Bruner, and then 21-1 under Coach Galen Smith in 1968, and 10-1 under Coach Gren Lefebvre in 1969 for a combined record of 62-10. Around the horn in 1969 the Indians had Jim Gable catching, Dan Nichols at first, Mark Maxwell at second, Don Threlkeld at short when he wasn’t pitching, and Stan Weliever at third. In the outfield, they had real speed with Fred Warren in left, Mike Spears in center and Rich Douglas in right. At bat, Don Threlkeld was a career .375 hitter and Maxie had a .330 mark. The pitching duties were shared by John Groves, Gary Dale and Don Threlkeld.
The 1969 team hauled in the hardware, winning the County, Sectional and Big Four championships. Darlington had a great group of athletes that year as they were undefeated in Cross Country, winning the Big Four Championship; they won the County and the Big Four championships in track. They were 10-1 in baseball, with many of the same players who had just finished posting the second of their undefeated seasons in basketball. They had finished a four year run in basketball with a 79-12 record, winning 45 games in a row excluding the sectionals.
The Darlington Field of Dreams moved around depending on school and gym renovations, but finally settled on top of the hill southeast of the school where the softball field is now. If you go there today, you will find a large stone with a plaque engraved with the name of Marion “Runt” Maxwell in honor of the contributions he made to Darlington baseball.