Keegan Watson threw a no-hitter in the second game of a doubleheader to lead the New Palestine Dragons to a 6-1 victory over New Castle, clinching the Hoosier Heritage Conference title with a 10-4 league record.
Earlier in the day, New Castle rallied from a four-run deficit after five to beat the Dragons 5-4.
Watson threw the first no-hitter for a Dragon pitcher since Connor Swain blanked Brebeuf in five innings May 19, 2014. It’s the first seven-inning no-hitter since Evan Vance and Cameron Clark combined for one in a 9-0 shutout of New Castle on April 18, 2014.
Watson struck out seven over seven innings and scattered four walks and a hit batter. New Castle’s only run came in the second, when a leadoff walk and hit batsman started the inning, followed by a groundout and a sacrifice fly. From there, New Castle had just three baserunners – with a two-out walk and error in the fourth, which the Dragons got out of with a grounder to third baseman Jacob Hickman – and a walk in the seventh.
The Dragons also scored their first run without the benefit of a hit, as Evan Fitzgerald reached on an error, stole second and third, then scored when Braden Roberts broke from first to second and Fitzgerald stole home while Roberts was extending in a rundown.
The Dragons had bases-loaded, one-out opportunities in the second and fourth, but New Castle got out of both with double plays. But they broke through in the fifth and sixth – both times starting rallies with two outs and the bases empty. In the fifth, Watson walked, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on a base hit by Jason Hall-Manley. Roberts extended the inning by reaching on an error. Hall-Manley scored on a wild pitch, and Roberts scored on Cody Long’s infield single.
In the sixth, Fitzgerald’s two-out double down the third-base line got things started. Watson followed by blasting a pitch over the centerfielder’s head for an RBI triple. Hall-Manley followed with a run-scoring single to make it 6-1.
Hall-Manley was 2-for-4 with two RBI singles and a run. Watson was 2-for-2 with a triple, two runs and an RBI. Fitzgerald was 1-for-4 with a double and two runs. Long was 2-for-3 with an RBI. Colby Jenkins had the Dragons’ other hit in a seven-hit evening.
In the opening game, the Dragons built a four-run lead, scoring a run in the second, two in the third and one more in the fifth, but fell in the final innings. Roberts singled and scored on Long’s safety squeeze in the second to put the Dragons ahead. In the third, Watson led off with a walk, stole second and scored on Hall-Manley’s single. Patrick Hopkins later drove in a run with a hit up the middle. Watson singled and scored on Roberts’ single to make it 4-0 in the fifth.
New Castle rallied, with a sixth-inning two-run triple by Jared Heard that the Dragons nearly ran down in the gap. In the seventh, they got the first two runners on via single and walk, sacrificed them over, then plated a run on Nick Jones’ infield single. After another walk loaded the bases, Caleb Matthews tied the game with a single up the middle. A passed ball brought home the go-ahead run.
Lovell (7-1) allowed four earned runs and struck out nine through 6 1/3 innings.
The Dragons outhit New Castle 7-6, with Roberts going 2-for-2 with a run and an RBI. Hopkins had an RBI single. Roberts, Fitzgerald, Lovell and Watson all had hits.
The split gives the Dragons a 19-8 record with one game remaining in the regular season – a Tuesday trip to Decatur Central.
The conference title is the ninth HHC championship for the Dragons since 2004.