ANDERSON, Ind. — Last season was a surprise. This year, it was intentional.
Cowan entered this year fresh off his first division title win in 11 years. He fired nearly his entire starting roster from the 2021 semi-state finalist team. He wanted to win another championship, and on Monday he did.
The Blackhawks defeated Wes-Del 5-3 in the A 55 Division Championship. The victory marked the eighth Division title in program history and the second straight for the Blackhawks.
“It’s extremely special and I was very lucky when I moved in to have these guys as juniors now seniors,” head coach Aaron Wells said. “I’m lucky to have them and a great coaching staff and guys who have signed on. We’ve been talking about a new tradition and that’s hopefully what we’re establishing here. “
►ARTICLE 40:Wapahani Baseball dominates Frankton 15-10 to claim third straight Division title
Cowan has quickly established itself as one of the best small school programs in the area. The Blackhawks’ 16-9 record is a little disappointing, however.
Only one of Cowan’s losses has come against a Class A opponent in Union City, who will also compete in next week’s regional at Lafayette Central Catholic. The other eight faced 2A opponents, six of which — Carroll, Wapahani (twice), Centerville (twice) and Monroe Central — faced teams that finished the season ranked in the top 10 of the 2A poll. ‘IHSBCA.
Wells wanted to play against the best competition to prepare Cowan’s now senior heavyweight roster for the playoffs. Because of this, Cowan, who started the season ranked 5th in A, did not finish the season in the top 10. Still, the tough schedule paid off. After the match, Wells appeared excited but not necessarily surprised.
The Blackhawks beat Liberty Christian (5-0) and Tri-Central (25-1) to qualify for the Division title. Facing one of the area’s top pitchers, Indiana Wesleyan pitching Zack Todd, the Blackhawks recorded 13 hits as a team.
Seniors Michael Hargrave and Chase Smith (one RBI) each went 3-for-4 at home plate. Freshman Gentry Groves’ lone hit drove in two runs in the third. Senior Owen Brand and second Bradley Terrell each recorded two hits while second Jackson Clifford (1 for 4), senior Malachi King (1 for 3) and junior Alexander King (one RBI) contributed offensively.
Throughout the year, Wells said Cowan’s offense continued to improve. Todd hadn’t allowed more than eight hits in a game in his high school career. Cowan’s batting average (.448) was nearly double his season average (.225). This season, Cowan’s offense is averaging two more points per game this season (7.36) than last year (5.28).
“I think it was the same mentality playing good defense. Our offense, obviously, was much better this year than last year,” Smith said. “Our offense has continued to grow throughout the year and our defense has remained the same.”
But, at Memorial Field in Anderson, Wes-Del took the lead with his offense. On the first pitch of the game, senior Alex Light sent the ball over the left field fence to give the Warriors an immediate 1-0 lead. Cowan scored three runs late in the third to take the lead.
Wes-Del’s offense recorded seven hits as a team, including an RBI sacrificial fly by junior Travis Bunch (2 for 3) and an RBI single by senior Will Kelly in the fourth inning. Clifford started the game on the mound for the Blackhawks. He pitched 3 2/3 innings, allowing six hits and three earned runs while striking out four, before being put out in the fourth inning.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Terrell came in to pitch. Wells said after two years of seeing him pitch, his coaching staff felt it was best to get Clifford off the mound. Wes-Del was back at the top of his lineup and threatening to retake the lead. Terrell came in, pulled Light out and took Cowan out of a potential block.
“I can’t give up anything, just throw punches,” Terrell said, that was his mindset. “Get (the ball) to my defense so they can hit.”
Cowan then scored two more runs late in the fourth, which turned out to be all he needed. Wes-Del struggled to find an offense in the final three innings, though he got two runners on base with one out in the top of the seventh. Terrell pitched 3 1/3 hitless baseball innings, walking three — one of which was an intentional walk — while striking out eight.
Before last season, Cowan’s six sectional championships had each been won in back-to-back years (2004-06 and 2008-10). The trend bodes well for another potential sectional championship next year, but right now the Blackhawks are focused on another deep playoff run with all six seniors on their roster.
Cowan will face Rossville (17-2) in the regional semifinal on Saturday at 11 a.m. The winner will get either No. 3 Lafayette Central Catholic (23-6), the host school, or Union City (18-6) in the championship.