INDIANAPOLIS – With Norwell three outs away from its third state baseball championship, senior Nathan Shelton turned to Josh VanMeter and asked him a question.
“You ready to go out on the mound?” Shelton asked.
“Absolutely,” VanMeter replied.
“Take us to the promised land,” Shelton said.
VanMeter had the ball in his hands, where he always wants it, where he'd had it all game, and he took the Knights home.
VanMeter finished a great career on the mound, allowing only three hits and striking out eight as No.3 Norwell beat No.1 Jasper 2-1 on Friday at Victory Field to win the Class 3A state championship.
“With three outs left and Josh on the mound,” senior Austin Dantzer said, “it was game over.”
The Knights (33-3) won their third Class 3A state title in 11 years, adding 2013 champions to their wins in 2003 and 2007.
A powerhouse hitting team most of the season, the Knights won the state championship with the right player making the right play in the right situation at the right time.
Both runs, in the third and fifth innings, were generated in identical fashion:
VanMeter led off both innings with a walk, using his keen eye – one that helped lead to being drafted by the San Diego Padres – to find a way on.
Shelton then bunted him to second both times. “Those were huge bunts,” VanMeter said.
Both innings, junior Jonah Patten drove VanMeter home.
The hits were especially sweet for Patten, who hit into a double-play his first time up and had been unable to get a force out at second on a low throw by VanMeter in the second inning. That play, with the error charged to VanMeter, led to Jasper's only unearned run.
“I think that shows a lot about his character,” VanMeter said of Patten. “He struggled earlier in the game, but he came up big when the time was needed. Without him, we don't win that ballgame, both RBIs and two hits. He had a pretty big game.”
Patten, the only non-senior to play for the Knights in the title game, credited his teammates with picking him up. A cleanup hitter, he had been hitless in the semistate and 1-for-5 in the regional title game.
“I just came out clear-minded, blocked out what I'd done earlier and went out with a new mindset,” Patten said. “It happened to work out for me. It's because of my teammates. There's not a thing I wouldn't do for these guys.”
Patten also had a big play in the field in the second inning when took a ground ball at shortstop and threw out Jasper's Scott Stallwood on a nice tag by Norwell catcher Cale Schumm.
VanMeter, meanwhile, effectively shut down Jasper, a team that had beaten three tournament opponents by the mercy rule, including a 10-run win over Crawfordsville at semistate.
“I didn't think either team would blow each other out,” Norwell coach Andy McClain said. “We were mirror images of each other. Both teams were bunting early just because you knew how hard it would be to score.”
Norwell had been in tight situations throughout the postseason, taking extra-inning wins over Heritage and NorthWood and coming back from an early deficit against Western in the semistate.
“We've been in situations like this all the time,” Dantzer said. “The whole tournament we've had close games. We came out and played the way we had to, kept our composure and came out on top.”
Patten and Austin Dettmer had two hits apiece. Tailur Szarenski, Luke Hunter and Dantzer had the Knights' other hits.
Norwell's 10 seniors basked in the glory of a mission accomplished.
For VanMeter, who pitched the final 16 innings of the tournament, the final dog-pile after Dantzer caught the last out was a sweet one indeed.
A little before Shelton told VanMeter to take Norwell to “the promised land,” McClain turned to his ace one last time.
“I've been fortunate to pitch really well through the tournament,” VanMeter said. “I don't think I could have ended my career any better. Coach McClain said, 'Go win us a ballgame.' ”
VanMeter and the Knights won that ballgame, the last one of the season, and the biggest one of their careers.