INDIANAPOLIS — From an unusually true blue sky to that virtually all-blue-glass JW Marriott building standing tall as a gleaming backdrop right over Victory Field, to those camo blue jerseys that scream anything but camouflage, to Indianapolis Cathedral hitters made to feel blue by Tanner Tully and his 13 strikeouts, to the blue-ribbon medals presented, and even to, get this, Cory Malcom getting blue in the privates, this was the Blue Blazers’ day.
There was no stopping them, from Tully’s rocket home run over the right-field fence as Elkhart Central’s first batter of the game, to a team that made that shot stand up the rest of the way with clutch play on Saturday, June 15.
“It’s indescribable. We dreamed it, but actually doing it ... it’s indescribable,” catcher Kyle Smith said after the Blazers blanked previously undefeated Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the school’s first-ever state title in a purely team sport, its first team state title in any sport in 20 years and its fourth team state title all-time.
“Every year we’ve been kind of close, and then to end it like this, it is kind of indescribable,” echoed senior center fielder Matt Eppers, who was named after the game as the winner of the IHSAA’s Class 4A L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award.
“This is why you play baseball,” said Eppers after exchanging hugs galore with family and friends.
“I just dropped to my knees and cried,” Malcom said of his reaction after Tully struck out Notre Dame verbal commit and sophomore losing pitcher Ashe Russell to end a game that hummed along in 1 hour, 18 minutes.
“It’s a family feeling,” Malcom said. “These guys mean so much to me. I kind of cried.”
It was the second time Malcom was just about brought to tears.
The first came in the fourth inning when the senior shortstop fouled a ball right into that most sensitive of areas.
He bent over for a few minutes trying to collect himself.
And then, as if to punctuate these Blazers’ resolve with a machine-gun eruption of exclamation points, he powered the very next pitch to deep left for a double, one of just three hits the team had on the day off Russell.
“It was a little sore on the running, but I had to fight through it,” said Malcom, who did then come out momentarily for a pinch runner. “It was probably sore for 10 minutes, but it’s fine now.”
Oddly enough, Malcom, who said he was wearing protection — “but (the ball) kind of got under it” — had never fouled a pitch off himself in that exact spot until one day earlier at practice.
“What can you do?” Malcom shrugged with a sheepish grin?
Uh, win a state title. That’ll fix everything.
It did so for everybody, not least of all Smith.
“These are my best friends, my favorite team,” Smith said. “It’s awesome.”
One week earlier at semistate, Smith had to come out in the fifth inning when he was overcome by heat exhaustion.
No such chance this time. Instead, he gunned down Cathedral lead-off hitter Brendan Flood at third base on a stolen base attempt to end a sixth inning that began with the first two Fighting Irish hitters reaching.
“I thought I was close to getting him when he (stole second), but then when I got him at (third), I was going crazy,” Smith said. “I wanted to do something key for this team. I was surprised he ran there, but I was ready.”
Smith was ultra-ready to catch Tully.
“His curve ball was on today. Catching Tanner was awesome,” Smith said of the Ohio State-bound senior, who finished 10-1 for the 32-1 Blazers with an earned run average well south of half a run. “Someday I can tell my kids I caught him when I was young, and hopefully watch him on TV.”
“I knew he was gong to throw the best game he ever threw in his life, and he did it for us,” Malcom said.
“He was filthy,” said Eppers, who had a roughly straight-on view of Tully’s pitches from center field. “His fastball was zippin’, the curve was nasty, and then the slider, the change-up. I don’t know how guys hit him. I really don’t. And his homer, that gave us the momentum.”
All of it also added up to Eppers soaking up an honor that he didn’t even have to worry about being bittersweet.
“It’s amazing. I’m deeply honored, deeply humbled,” Eppers said of the Mental Attitude Award that included a $1,000 scholarship being presented to Central in his name.
“It was amazing to hear my name,” said Eppers, who was joined on the field by his parents, Matt and Marcia, “and to have it happen on top of a state championship.”