By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Independence has been on a tear offensively the entire month of May. It didn’t stop Tuesday, even against Wyoming East ace Derek Thornton.
The Patriots led 5-0 after two innings, and Brian Sexton — backed by that very offense and some sparkling defense — gutted out a complete game in a 7-5 win in the Class AA Region 3 semifinals Tuesday night.
Six of Indy’s 10 hits went for extra bases, including home runs by Drew D’Angelo and Andrue Hughart. Wyatt Adkins was 2-for-3 with a double and triple.
An offense that everyone knew would be one of the most formidable in the area is clicking at the right time.
“It all started the game before sectionals,” said Hughart, who also doubled and drove in four runs. “We’re just finding the pitches and turning on them early, trying to jump on people, get the lead and keep the lead.”
Which is exactly what the Patriots did to Thornton.
D’Angelo reached on an error to lead off the first and, one out later, Hughart drilled the first pitch he saw from Thornton over the right field fence.
A run-scoring single by Tanner Ray and an RBI double by Adkins was followed by Hughart’s opposite-field double to left that scored Adkins and gave Independence (18-8) a 5-0 lead in the second.
“Our first five or six have just been hitting the ball really well,” first-year Independence coach Scott Cuthbert said. “I don’t know how to explain it, but they just turned it on about two weeks ago.”
Thornton (7-4) got through the third unscathed, but D’Angelo’s solo shot and Adkins’ triple with one out in the fourth ended his day. The senior allowed all seven Indy runs, six of them earned, and gave up nine hits, struck out one and walked one.
“To not let them score right off the bat, and we were able to put (some early) runs up, that helped,” Cuthbert said. “It helped the kids’ nerves and just to settle down and play a little bit.”
Sexton benefited from the offense, but he also got some key defensive plays behind him.
Thornton led off the second with a double to right, but was doubled off second when Brian Lusk lined out to D’Angelo.
Lusk singled to start the sixth, but Adkins and D’Angelo turned another double play on a ground ball by Hunter Simmons.
It was the 21st double play turned by the Oak Hill transfers this season.
The Warriors (21-7) got on the board in the third on Zach Whitten’s two-out, two-run double to make it 5-2. After the Patriots got those runs back, East scored three in the fifth, two on a single by Whitten.
Whitten scored on a single by Christian Hedinger to make it a two-run game. But Hedinger was thrown out trying to steal by Jeremy McGinnis and Thornton struck out to end the threat.
Sexton pitched around a one-out single by Jon Culicerto in the seventh to close it out and send the Patriots into the championship game against PikeView.
Sexton gave up nine hits and allowed five earned runs in a gritty performance. He struck out three and walked one.
The loss brought the season to an end for the Warriors, who won last year’s Class AA state title and were runners-up in 2011.
“I love (the players), and the hardest thing about the tournaments isn’t the losing,” veteran Wyoming East coach Ron “Chief” Mayhew said. “It’s your last time with the boys, and it really gets to you. We spent a lot of time together. We’ll bounce back from getting beat, but you can’t bounce back when they leave.”
The Patriots will host PikeView, which beat Mount View 13-2 Tuesday, in the region title game at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Independence will be looking for its first state tournament berth since 2009, and PikeView has never been.
— E-mail: gfauber
WE: 002 030 0 — 5 9 3
I: 230 200 x — 7 10 1
WE: Derek Thornton, Christian Hedinger (4) and Zach Whitten, I: Brian Sexton and Jeremy McGinnis. WP — Sexton. LP — Thornton. Hitting — WE: Austin Canada 2-4 (2 runs), Whitten 2-4 (2b, 4 rbi), Hedinger 1-3, Thornton 1-3 (2b), Brian Lusk 2-3, Jon Culicerto 1-1 (2 runs), I: Drew D’Angelo 1-4 (hr, rbi, 2 runs), Wyatt Adkins 3-4 (2b, 3b, rbi), Andrue Hughart 2-3 (hr, 2b, 4 rbi), McGinnis 1-4, Brad Huffman 1-3 (2b), Tanner Muovich 1-3 (2b), Tanner Ray 1-3 (rbi).
Records: WE: 21-7; I: 18-8.