Last year, the Wes-Del Warriors ended their season with a 5-3 loss to Cowan in the sectional championship.
“This group was pretty determined [to not repeat that],” Warriors third-year head coach Daniel Hanson said. “...[The team] wanted to make sure that when we got back to those kinds of moments, we were prepared, and that it was a different outcome.”
So with that in mind, how did they respond this season?
For starters, they defeated Cowan (10-15, 4-4 Mid-Eastern) in their second sectional game and won the sectional championship for the first time since 2011. But they didn’t stop there.
Last Saturday, the Warriors defeated Blue River Valley (11-10, 3-4 Mid-eastern) 9-2 in the program’s first regional championship since 1990.
“We've talked a lot about [the achievement] and [the team] has really embraced the community and the school,” Hanson said. “It's been a fun ride.”
In their first ten games of the season, Wes-Del (21-8, 5-3 Mid-Eastern) went 9-1. To Hanson, this was no surprise.
“It goes back to January and February,” he said. “We had a great turnout and they were really putting in the work. A lot of this group plays in the offseason and does things to get better. So we could see an attitude change and guys were really focused on just continuing to get better.”
The hard work during the offseason has led to many Warriors having great seasons. Senior Travis Bunch is one of those players and his stats speak for themselves. On the mound, he is 8-2 and has struck out 79 batters. One of his most impressive stats is his ERA, which sits at 1.73.
“I think this year I've been better at mixing up my pitches,” Bunch said. “Last year, I didn't really think my curveball was that good. This year, it has helped to mix my curveball with some fastballs.”
Besides Bunch, there are two other seniors on the team. Senior Dawson Bookout is another Warrior that has helped his team find success. One of his best stats is his team-leading on-base percentage, which is at .495.
To him, the Warriors’ success is because of their attitude.
“It’s just positivity and just sticking together as a family,” he said. “I mean, when we’re in the breakdown, it's always, ‘one, two, three, family. That's what it’s all about.”
But it’s not all about the upperclassmen. Multiple younger Warriors have been huge parts of the monumental season.
“Some of those younger guys have gotten a lot of experience over the last couple of years,” he said. “We've got a big group of juniors (seven) that were playing as freshmen and sophomores. They got to experience that tough loss last year [to Cowan] and they want to be ready to go when they get those opportunities. They've continued to get better and they continue to grind.”
One underclassman that has helped Wes-Del is sophomore Greyson Mealy. He leads the Warriors with a batting average of .423 and has recorded 44 hits.
“I'd say the key [to my success on offense] is that I've been looking for contact,” Mealy said. “I have been hunting contact on the fastball.”
The regional championship is a big deal to the team. But the community’s reaction might have been even bigger.
“We had an outstanding turnout at the regional game and we had a lot of support here,” Hanson said. “...We've definitely felt their energy and afterward, it's kind of one of the big things we've been talking about.”
With the Warriors advancing to semi-state, another stat makes this achievement even more special. They are the last Delaware County team to remain in the state tournament. But to Hanson, that is not on the Warriors’ minds.
“We're just focusing on one pitch at a time and one game at a time,” he said. “We don't care who's where, and that's been our motto all year. We're just staying in the moment… So the fun part of the experience is trying to be that. We have felt the underdog role, and we've embraced it a lot.”
Wes-Del will face Lafayette Central Catholic (22-11, 8-1 Hoosier) in their first semi-state game. The last time the program won a semi-state championship was that same 1990 team.
To match that and continue the historic season, the Warriors know that they need to rely on what has helped them get to this point.
“[We] need to remember how good we were fighting adversity,” Bunch said. “Even if we’re down in the first inning, we can come back. Just standing up in the dugout and staying positive.”
The game will be held at Lafayette Jefferson High School and will start at 2 p.m.