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By Al Stilley
Senior staff writer
There is no more dreaming about a state baseball championship at Roncalli.
The Rebels made their dream come true by grinding out their first state championship with a 3-2 triumph in nine innings against 4A No. 1 Zionsville Friday night at Victory Field. The game attracted a high school record of 6,799 spectators on a beautiful night for baseball.
Never-say-die Roncalli (23-9) found a way to win in spite of three errors, flawed base running and seeing the Eagles (30-5) load the bases twice.
In the end, Roncalli’s speed and true grit prevailed.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the bases loaded, senior outfielder Will Harris hit a grounder to the left side of the infield and beat the throw to first base as pinch runner Mark Cobb scampered home with the winning run.
“You dream about being the one who goes up to the plate with the bases loaded and gets the hit that wins the state,” Harris said. “All I knew was that I made contact with the ball and I was running as fast as I could to first base. I made it there before the ball.”
Meanwhile, Cobb knew what he had to do. “If the ball was hit on the ground I was to book it home,” he said.
Roncalli, which advanced to the state finals in 1982 (3A) and 2012 (4A), put its speed on display earlier, particularly on defense.
In the third inning starting pitcher Michael McAvene fielded a bunt and began a double play to end the inning.
Senior shortstop Jake Franklin turned in Roncalli’s most important defensive play of the game, shutting down the Eagles in the eighth with the bases loaded and the game tied at 2.
Rebels coach Aaron Kroll brought in senior closer Conrad Daniel after McAvene pitched seven innings and gave up two earned runs, five hits, eight strike outs and one walk. With the bases loaded and one out, Franklin went to his knees to field a hard one-hop grounder, arose and threw out Drew Bertram at the plate. The threat ended with a fly ball to Harris in right field.
“Jake made the defensive play of the game at short,” Kroll said. “He made an unbelievable play to get the force at home and help us get out of the inning. Once we got through that, it felt like we had a real chance.”
The Rebels never led until the end of the game.
They fell behind 1-0 in the fourth and tied it at 1 in the fifth when Brian Keeley scored on a wild pitch. Zionsville went up 2-1 in the sixth on a throwing error and a wild pitch. The Rebels tied it at 2 in the bottom of the inning when Schnell’s triple to center field scored Hayden Harper from first.
“This was a tough, gritty win by our guys,” Kroll said. “Will did a great job of putting the ball in play with two strikes. He battled, put it in play, and that’s all you could ask.”
Daniel finished the season 6-0 on the mound and with a 1.00 ERA.
Kroll took over the baseball reins before the 2015 season when the Rebels finished 25-4. They returned this season with a corps of 10 seniors, deep pitching and a mixture of a few young hitters in the lineup.
“I can’t believe it; it’s like a dream come true,” said Kroll. “We felt like we had a good team last year, but this year’s team really came together. This feels like it was meant to be after we had lost so many close games early in the season. This is why I had always hoped to get this job – to win a state championship.”
“This was a game of ups and downs,” Harris said. That’s what baseball is, and we came out as the stronger team in the end.”