SAC Baseball

Athenians earn 28th overall SAC title 


FRANKFORT­­ — Being called “Champions” will always be exciting.

So it goes for Crawfordsville baseball.

Sagamore Champions for the 28th time, the Athenians defeated Frankfort 4-1 to capture at least a share of the conference title.

In a season where things have not always gone the way they wanted, this team has shown the grit and resolve in nearly every conference contest to find a way to win, and that plucky perseverance makes them champions once again.

“This is a team that knows that every win is the most important, that today’s game is the most important,” said Crawfordsville coach Brett Motz, who captures his second conference championship as head coach to go with three as an All-State player at CHS, and three as an assistant coach. He also has a pair of conference titles with North Putnam. “When you can figure out how to win the close, competitive games, play with a purpose, and bring that same mindset and approach, then you win those close games and championships.”

To coin a well-worn cliché, it was truly a team effort, as the Athenians move to 14-10 on the season and 10-2 in the league.

Every player had a defensive role, from catching a routine fly ball to applying a tag to making a relay to fielding a ball cleanly. Again, the Crawfordsville defense turned in an error-free game.

The offense did what the offense has done in big games. They scored the first three runs with two outs, and it was the fifth inning before they got the first run scored and yet one more time coming from behind.

“We stayed focused, we kept playing,” Motz said of his squad. “You never know when the big play will happen. We have nine guys on the field who know they have to be ready for that moment.”

Ready they were.

The biggest defensive moment came from a former swimmer, just like his head coach.

Matt Miller, the sophomore catcher, literally stole a run from Frankfort and kept a momentum-shift from occurring.

After the offense had taken the lead back 3-1 in the fifth, the defense was on the clock.

It was the sixth. Athenians starting pitcher Bryce Dowell had surrendered only one run, but was nearing 90 pitches and facing the Hot Dogs lineup for the third time.

It was single-single, and Jude Coursey was called in to pitch.

Coursey had picked up a big save for Dowell just last week with a four-plus inning gem in a win over North Montgomery, and the junior was called upon again.

On the first pitch, Frankfort executed a sacrifice bunt, moving the runners to second and third.

A called third strike on a nasty breaking ball retired the next hitter. Two outs.

The next hitter fell behind 0-2 and Coursey did what pitchers do on 0-2 counts, he wasted a pitch.

Wasted it over Miller’s head to the backstop. The runner broke from third.

Champions make their own breaks, but what happened next was truly fortunate, although well-played.

The ball hit the concrete block backstop and bounced straight back towards Miller, who had turned to find the ball. He didn’t even have time to take off his mask.

It bounced right back into his glove, a good 2 or 3 steps behind the umpire.

Coursey had come in off the mound to field a throw, but Miller sized up the situation.

He immediately, instinctively, dashed right back to the plate, and dived for the base. Like the start of a swim race…

His glove was in front of the plate as the Frankfort runner’s hand was stretching for the dish.

Out at the plate. Three outs. Momentum-change thwarted.

Big play indeed.

“It was just an instinct,” Miller said of the grab and dive. “I just had to go for it. I saw Jude (Coursey) there but I just knew that a throw to him might not be in time, so I went for the base. It’s not something you practice for, but just do.”

The young team leader also passed on any personal compliments.

“This was a great team win,” he said, “and I’m so pleased to be part of it and help in any way. This was a great win for everyone, but especially our seniors, who have shown us how to work hard.”

One of those seniors did lead the way.

Dowell, as noted, was the starting pitcher, and picked up the win, moving his record to 5-1. He walked two, struck out seven and scattered five hits in an 87-pitch outing. Coursey, who came in to throw in the sixth and had all the fireworks in his first five pitches, walked a pair in the seventh, but got the three outs to secure the win. He had two strikeouts, both called.

Dowell also drove in the game-winning run with a single in the fifth, as his Athenians plated three runs with two outs.

“He leads by how hard he competes,” Motz said of Dowell. “He shows everyone how hard to play.”

That fifth inning scoring flurry started with two strikeouts.

Mason McCarty called on some genetics and lined a single to center on the first pitch that the sophomore saw.

Coursey then walked for the third time in the game, and that was followed by a Wyatt Motz single to left. Motz, with the best batting average in the conference, drove in McCarty with the single to left.

Dowell then drove those two in.

The last run came in the seventh when pinch-hitter Jacob Lee earned a walk after falling behind 1-2.

He was replaced on the bases by Daniel Surface, who moved to second on a McCarty bunt, got to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Coursey infield out.

The Sagamore championship is also a bit of a milestone for assistant coach Rhett Welliever, who now has claim to 25 Sagamore titles.

The 25th is also a personal moment, as he now has one more than brother-in-law and former Crawfordsville coach John Froedge. That moment was a smile-maker for an old coach and an old sports writer.

“It’s such a blast,” he said. “I still let out a scream when we won it today. I think back to my first one in 1986, and through to this one, and the one constant is always how hard the players, the kids work. When they buy into the work it takes to play Athenian baseball, when they learn that it is hard, very hard to win, and that it is never easy, then you can win. It is always about fundamentals. You have to learn how to play ruthlessly, and when you do that, it puts the passion into you that leads to success. I’ve seen teams that hit .200, or hit the cover off the ball. It’s always about the kids and about fundamentals.”

“There is nobody better than Coach Welliever,” Motz said. “He embodies Crawfordsville baseball. Crawfordsville pitching has always been the mainstay of championships, and he is the source of that. Our pitchers are always well-prepared and ready to compete. Pitching consistency is what makes champions, and he is the model of consistency.”

Frankfort falls to 5-12 overall and 5-7 in the Sagamore.