Braves have high hopes for state title

    There are four teams left in the 3A state finals for baseball in Indiana and the Bellmont Braves are one of them for the first time since 2002 when Jon Stevens' group of Braves fell to Vincennes Lincoln, 4-0 in the state final.
    Despite the visit to Victory Field in Indianapolis back in 2002, the Braves are still without a semi-state title due to the fact that there was not a semi-state conducted from 2000-03.
    2002 was also the year of Bellmont's only regional title until now. This year's group of semi-finalists is a relatively fresh list of teams who have not tasted victory at this level in their school's history as the Braves are the only team left in 3A that has won a regional title before this year.
    Crawfordsville, Andrean, Norwell, and Jasper, names that have been state title winners multiple times in the last decades and have dominated the field, are nowhere to be seen this year.
    Crawfordsville was upset by an Edgewood team who entered the game 17-9 nipping the 2011 3A champs, 5-3 to move on to the regional finals of the Mount Vernon regional only to be bumped by Brebeuf Jesuit, 5-1.
    In the other regional determining a spot in the final four in bracket two was Greensburg who was tied for third with Leo in the last poll of the season by the coaches. The Pirates earned their way by topping Evansville Memorial, the surprise team of the tournament, 2-0 and then blanking Silver Creek, 7-0.
    Evansville Memorial entered their sectional with a lowly 2-23 record on the season and did the unthinkable by winning three games in a row to earn their 26th sectional title in their school's history (fifth most in Indiana).
    Bellmont will face a familiar foe in the Western Panthers, a team that the Braves dismissed for the sectional title in football earlier this school year, 21-20.
    The Panthers came into regionals against the Mishawaka Marian squad and won 4-2, then beat Griffith, 4-1, the team that knocked off powerhouse Andrean in the regional opener, 6-5 in another stunning upset.
    On paper, the strongest team left of the four would appear to be Greensburg who is the only team listed on the coaches poll's top 20. Bellmont made a brief appearance towards the end of the season but never cracked the top ten.
    The Braves need not be worried about rankings and numbers, however. The team tied with Greensburg in the year's last poll, the Leo Lions, a team that Bellmont dismantled 10-2 before knocking off Hamilton Heights, 4-3.
    Bellmont has the advantage of playing quality teams year-round including a stacked NHC and arguably one of the top three hardest sectionals in 3A with Norwell, Whitko, and even Heritage playing their best baseball. The Braves stepped up to the challenge and came away as sectional champs for the 18th time in school history.
    The other three schools left in the semis?
    Brebeuf Jesuit has won their last four sectionals but this is their first year out of 10 total sectional championships that they escaped regional play.
    With their sectional win, Greensburg has come away with their second consecutive sectional to make eight total and also made their first regional title this year.
    Lastly, Bellmont's opponent, Western, has won their sectional for the 17th time with 2010 being their last win and has never been to the semi-state level before this year.
    With all of these "newbies" in the mix, there will be a first-time state title winner guaranteed and Bellmont would like to be the team to earn it, but they must first prove they can best Western (no pun intended) in two sports.
    The Braves must ride the pitching of senior Phillip Bauman. He's proven that he has another gear come playoff time and has carried the Bellmont squad on the mound, especially in the regional games where he earned two wins in one day allowing only two runs in 10 innings, a feat many major league pitchers could not accomplish.