Red-hot Eagles soar to first sectional title since 2018

May 27—FRANKTON — A nervous buzz fell over the Frankton faithful as the Wapahani batter made contact.

It transformed into hushed anticipation as left fielder Riley Inglis slowed his back pedal and began to settle underneath the fly ball.

By the time the horsehide nestled into his glove — and, in at least one instance, moments before — the celebration was on.

For the first time since 2018, the Eagles are baseball sectional champions after holding off Wapahani 6-3 in Monday's final.

"Riley's my guy out there in left field," said senior Sam Barr, another of Frankton's many heroes on this day. "I got all the confidence in the world out there. I just started running in because I knew that ball was caught once it got out to Riley for sure."

Barr was 2-for-4 with a double, three RBI and a run from the No. 9 hole to pace the Eagles' offense, but it seemed as though every time Frankton needed to make a play in a big moment, somebody stepped up to execute.

The most pivotal examples happed maybe 10 minutes apart in the bottom of the fourth inning and the top of the fifth.

Trailing 3-1 in the fourth, Wapahani (12-16) had the tying runs on second and third base with two outs.

Frankton starter Wyatt Smith — the THB Sports area leader in earned-run average in the regular season — recorded a strikeout on four pitches to end the frame.

He finished with 10 punchouts while scattering eight hits and surrendering just two earned runs in a 124-pitch complete game.

The Raiders had a chance to answer defensively in the top of the fifth when the Eagles loaded the bases with one out and reliever Kayson Perdue induced a line-drive out to first base.

That brought Barr to the plate, and he laced a 1-2 pitch for a two-run single that gave Frankton some much-needed breathing room.

His brother, Max Barr, later scored on a wild pitch, and the Eagles went from facing the prospect of a tie game in the late innings to protecting a comfortable 6-1 lead.

The difference was execution in a pair of high-leverage situations.

"One thing that definitely helps is any time something bad happens or anything like that, Coach (Caleb) Maddox always brings us in," Smith said. "He's like, 'Hey, don't dwell on it. Mistakes are gonna happen. Next play.' And if you live by the next-play mentality and you don't dwell on things, good things will happen."

Good things have been happening on a regular basis for the Eagles (15-11) since they dropped to 2-6 after a tough early slate on April 18.

There were no excuses made and no fingers pointed to dole out blame. Frankton simply kept its collective nose to the grindstone and bought into the philosophy of its first-year coach.

The result is a trip to Saturday's regional at a site to be determined against Central Indiana Conference rival Madison-Grant. They were two of four CIC members to claim sectional crowns Monday, and the conference is guaranteed at least one semistate participant.

"It's been an incredible group," Maddox said of his roster. "We started our season slow, but it was a very tough schedule. We played a tough schedule to prepare us for times like this, and we were ready to go at the end of the season.

"We've had great leadership from our seniors — Nate Moore, Wyatt Smith, our Barr brothers. They've been great leaders for us, and I'm so thankful for them. They've all been extremely coachable. They listened to what our coaches asked of them, and they believed. So we're extremely proud of them."

All four seniors had highlights in the sectional final.

Moore beat out an infield single to lead off the game, stole second, moved to third on an error and scored on a sacrifice fly by Shaun Jarrett.

An inning later, Caine Oakley led off with a single and scored on a double by Sam Barr. Inglis launched a two-out double into the left-center field gap that appeared to be a triple and plated two more runs, but the ball went under the fence and Inglis was returned to second base with Moore — who followed' Barr's hit with a walk — sent back to third base.

That still left the Eagles with an early 3-0 lead.

"None of us were happy with the beginning (of the season)," Sam Barr said. "None of us here like to lose. So (we were) just kind of coming out here every week knowing that we can't play like we did those first few games. You've gotta scratch a few good wins across.

"The schedule didn't necessarily get any easier. We just had to really step up and face our competition with that no-quitters mentality for sure. And then, once we got going, we loved that feeling, and we played really good off of good energy, and we just kind of kept that going and strung a lot of wins together to bring it into playing our best baseball here in the state tournament."

Wapahani scored its first run in the fourth on a bloop single by Clay Estep before Smith's strikeout ended the rally.

The Raiders again threatened in the fifth and forced another run across on a two-out single by Noah Henderson. But Smith made a fantastic fake to second and throw to third to pick off a Wapahani runner for the third out and short-circuit that threat,

Wapahani's final run came in the seventh on a one-out single by Nate Luce, but Smith got a pair of fly outs to end the game as his pitch-count expired.

That allowed the Eagles to celebrate their first sectional title in six years on their home field.

"It definitely means a lot more knowing that the last game I'm ever gonna play on this field was a sectional championship," Smith said. "It was definitely the last game here, so it definitely means a lot."