Playing for the future has been success for Covington High School sports team in recent years although the development has not been without some growing pains.
The Trojan volleyball team began to upgrade their regular season schedule a few years ago and it paid off this past autumn with a first-ever trip to the Semi-State.
The Covington basketball team also started adding tougher teams to their schedule and it has paid off with trips the Regional level for the past few years.
Next season, both the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams will travel to Lafayette to face the likes of Benton Central, Lafayette Jefferson, West Lafayette and Central Catholic in the hope of enhancing their chances in the post-season.
Evan Willis, the Covington baseball coach, is doing the same by adding teams like Benton Central, North Montgomery, Terre Haute South and Friday’s foe, Danville, Illinois.
“We’re scattering some really good teams in between our conference games in the hope of being better prepared for the sectional,” he explained. “We’ve got a tough conference and a tough sectional, so we hope that playing these big schools helps us get ready.”
His Trojans traveled across the state line to play the Vikings at Danville Stadium, a venue that Willis enjoys, with him saying, “I’d play here every year if I could.”
Covington got off to exactly the kind of start that Willis wanted, taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on a walk to Ethan Engle and a double by Tanner Dreher, but Danville tied it right back up in their half of the inning on double and two wild pitches.
The Trojans threatened in the second as leadoff batter Bradley Slider walked, but was picked off first and then Logan Myers doubled, but was left stranded.
Danville scored three runs in the bottom of the inning on two singles, a triple and an error and then added one more run in the third on a pair of singles and a ground out for a 5-1 lead.
“It would have been easy for us to say we’re down four runs. It’s Danville and then just go through the motions,” Willis said of his team, “but we kept our heads high and fought back.”
In the fourth, Covington picked up a run on three Viking errors and a walk with the bases loaded, but the team could only muster that one run to trail 5-2.
Covington had started Logun Freed on the mound, a pitcher that Willis called “really good for 1A, but somebody like Danville sees all the time at their level”.
After three innings of what Willis called “good pitching” by Freed, Trace Hammer took the mound in relief – the first varsity action of any kind for the sophomore.
Hammer struck out the first batter he faced, walked the second who was then caught stealing and force the third batter to line out for a 1-2-3 inning.
The Trojans continued to battle in the top of the fifth as they score two runs on a walk to Dreher, a base runner when Freed took a pitch in his back, a sacrifice by Brady Cutrell that advance the two runners, a wild pitch and a single by Luke Taylor for 5-4 score.
Hammer pitched his second shutout inning in the bottom half of the fifth as the Vikings again went down in order.
It was then that the Covington offense exploded.
A pitch hit Hammer to send him first as the leadoff batter, Keaton Fye singled, Engle singled and Hammer scored on a balk before Dreher walked to again load the bases with the score 5-5.
Freed singled to drive in Fye and the base remained loaded for Cutrell who homered over the left field fence to put the Trojans up 10-5.
“That was a great hit by Brady,” Willis said. “You dream of hitting a grand slam and to do it in Danville Stadium, that’s something he’ll remember forever, I hope.”
Hammer took the mound in the bottom of the sixth after a substantial delay caused by the big Trojan half of the inning and his mechanics were off.
He walked the first two batters he faced and was 2-0 on the third when Willis replaced him with Taylor.
“I was really impressed with how Trace handled his first varsity pitching experience,” Willis said. “Right now, he’s not ready to go against a team a second time, but in a year or two, I think he’ll be ready to do that.”
Hall came in to what Willis described “as a tough spot with two on and a 2-0 count” and finished off the walk to load the bases and then gave up two singles that made it 10-6.
Another walk pushed the score to 10-7, and after a lineout, another Viking single made it 10-9.
Hall got the next batter to make the second out of the inning, but Danville followed up with a walk and a single to score two more runs to lead 11-10.
“I would have liked to have replaced Luke – I mean I had a couple of other guys who I could have pulled in to pitch – but I have to look ahead,” Willis said. “We’ve got nine games in fourteen days, so I have to save some pitching meaning Luke just had to suffer through it, but it will help him in the future for having gone through it.”
Covington tried to reply in the top of the seventh as they got a walk by Engle, a single by Dreher and a single by Cutrell to load the bases with two outs.
Slider hit a ball hard, but right to the third baseman who took two steps and touched the bag for a game-ending force out of Engle.
“Losses hit you in the gut,” Willis said, “but there were so many good things that we did out there that I told the players to hold their heads high.”
He continued, “A few years ago, we played Danville and they [defeated us badly], but for the second time in three years, we’ve played them to a one-run game. I’d have liked to have had our seniors get a win today, but it goes to show that we aren’t afraid of playing a team like Danville.”