There's plenty of room on the Rivet (Vincennes, Ind.) baseball bandwagon headed into Friday's Indiana Class A state final against Central Catholic (Lafayette).
That's because there are only 11 players on the team. And that's following a "membership drive" at Rivet (pronounced Ri-VAY) that brought back two guys who'd quit playing ball two years ago, plus the younger sister of one of the ballplayers.
With this curious collection, the Patriots finished the regular season 11-10 and have run off five consecutive postseason wins to earn the school's first trip to the baseball state final.
"It's pretty incredible," said freshman Brady Mouzin, the Patriots' No. 2 starting pitcher. "At the beginning of the season, we didn't have enough players to field a team. Now we're going to state."
Last year's Patriots finished 18-7 and sent left-handed pitcher Matt Igel to Indiana University, which won the Big Ten conference tournament this season. Back in Vincennes, a southwestern Indiana city of about 20,000, Rivet baseball coach Bill Beard was prepared to open the season at the small Catholic school (high school enrollment 92) with nine boys.
Then one was declared ineligible. It was time for a creative solution. Beard turned to the Montgomery household. He knew senior infielder-outfielder Cory Montgomery's younger sister, Emily, was not only a good athlete -- a sophomore starter on the girls' basketball team that reached the state final -- but had played in the town's Cub League youth baseball program for years.
Emily, who hit the winning shot to give the basketball team its first regional championship, declined Beard's first few invitations. She wavered, however, when the situation was presented as: What if we need you?
"We sat down as a family, and she said she'd do it," Cory said. "She's really good. She has a nice arm."
So the Patriots had nine players until freshman outfielder Logan Johnson tore a quadriceps muscle early in the season.
Beard and principal Janice Vantlin-Jones set out to find reinforcements, though anyone added to the roster would have to take part in some practices before being eligible to play. Johnson remained in the lineup with his quad heavily wrapped, playing right field with little mobility.
Beard and Vantlin-Jones didn't have to look far to locate some help. Senior basketball players Tyler Vieke and Mitchell Bahr had stopped playing baseball after their sophomore year to concentrate on hoops, but attended most Patriots home baseball games. "We were tailgaters," Vieke said.
Vieke and Bahr rejoined the team, and Rivet's roster was set for the rest of the season. Vieke moved into right field, Bahr at shortstop. Emily Montgomery plays left field, but the extra manpower makes it possible for Beard to use a DH to hit for her.
"It takes a lot of courage for her to play," Beard said. "It can be intimidating to stand in the batter's box with an 18-year-old boy throwing at you."
Said Emily: "I got hit in the hip bone in the last regular-season game. That was kind of scary. But overall, it's been pretty fun."
She did make a key catch in Rivet's 4-2 victory over Tecumseh (Lynnville) in the regional final.
"At first, teams were a little shocked to see me," she said. "But now, they congratulate me after the game." She's even had a few players ask her out on a date.
The win over Tecumseh sent the Patriots into last week's semi-state matchup against Shakamak (Jasonville), the defending Class A champion.
Rivet trailed 7-4 going into the sixth inning. Then senior catcher Philip Halter hit a two-run home run to cut Shakamak's lead to a run.
In the bottom of the seventh, Rivet tied the score on a solo homer by Vieke. By his calculations, that was his first home run since he was 12.
"I'm not really a power hitter; I hit second," said Vieke, who was the basketball team's point guard. Laying into a 1-0 fastball, he took off and didn't follow the flight of the ball. He neared first base and, hearing the clapping of the fans, figured the outfielder had misplayed his ball and he might have a chance to take second.
"Then I saw the umpire make the home run sign," Vieke said.
Sophomore first baseman Matt Sievers then reached on an error, moved to second on a passed ball and scored on a single by Halter. Sievers said he wasn't hurt in the ensuing dog pile, in which Beard arrived first.
"We're walking on air right now," Sievers said.
Halter leads the club with a .323 batting average. The Patriots' top pitcher is senior Spencer Wirth, with a 7-2 record, a 2.93 earned run average and 57 strikeouts in 55 innings. Mouzin is 6-2 with a 2.10 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings.
Next up will be 27-4 Central Catholic on Friday night at Victory Field, home of the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. The Knights have a team batting average of .351, have lost only once since late April and will be playing in their fifth state final in eight years.
"For us, it's uncharted territory," Cory Montgomery said. He said he feels "a little nervous but confident."
Mouzin said he has received congratulatory cards in the mail and has been hugged on the street by strangers.
"Yes, hugs," he said. "We hug in Vincennes."
Jeff Miller is a freelance writer in Texas and can be reached at email@example.com.