Title deciders can often be the most intense games of the season. And that was certainly the case when the Roncalli Rebels took on the Zionsville Eagles in the Class 4A state baseball championship fixture in June 2016. However, after the Rebels won the match, catcher Cody Smith performed a memorable act of kindness.
Based in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Rebels and the Eagles are two highly successful high school baseball teams. Between them, they’ve won several championship titles throughout the years, with Zionsville taking home their first prize in the 1971-72 season. And not long after that, Roncalli followed suit.
Indeed, some four years after the Eagles secured their Sectional Championships victory, the Rebels got on the board in 1976. Since then, the latter have celebrated another 13 wins, with the latest coming in 2018. That marked Roncalli’s third consecutive triumph, bettering the back-to-back success from 1998 and 1999.
However, while the Rebels boast a formidable recent record, the Eagles have won just as many Sectional Championships as their rivals. Following their first success in 1972, the high school team have since recorded 13 victories themselves. But the championship triumphs didn’t end there, though, as Roncalli and Zionsville secured a number of other accolades.
In 2006 the Eagles picked up their first Regional Championship, before securing their second some six years later. As for the Rebels, they didn’t have to wait as long for their opening triumph, winning the Regionals in 1979. From there, Roncalli went on to record another seven victories, three of which came throughout the 1990s.
Meanwhile, the Rebels and the Eagles have also enjoyed varying levels of success in the Semi-State Championships. Indeed, Roncalli secured their first title back in 1982, but the Indianapolis high school needed to wait 30 years before winning it again in 2012. And after that, they celebrated a third triumph some four years later.
Those three victories trump the efforts of the Eagles, with Zionsville winning their first Semi-State Championship in 2016. However, when it comes to the State Championships, the Rebels have had their fair share of heartbreak. Indeed, in 1982 they reached their first championship game, looking to make history.
Ahead of that year’s big showdown, the Rebels boasted a 32-6 record, while their opponents the LaPorte Slicers recorded 32-7. Despite that, though, Roncalli tasted a heavy defeat in the championship game, going down 7-1 in the end. And unfortunately for them, the disappointments didn’t end there.
Indeed, the Rebels needed to wait another three decades before appearing in their next State Championship fixture, taking on the Lake Central Indians in the 2011-12 season. The Indians went into that game with a 32-1 record, compared to Roncalli’s 23-9-1. And in a tight contest, Lake Central secured the title with a 1-0 victory.
After that, the Rebels didn’t appear in the State Championships for another four years, booking their spot in 2016. And to get there, Roncalli had to overcome the Center Grove Trojans in a semi-state fixture. Thankfully for them, the high school team recorded an 8-5 victory over their rivals.
As for the Rebels’ opponents, the Eagles secured their place in the State Championships by beating the Penn Kingsmen. Much like Roncalli did against the Trojans, Zionsville celebrated an 8-5 win that day. Incredibly, though, this would be the team’s first appearance in the championship fixture.
The game, scheduled to take place at Indianapolis’ Victory Field stadium, saw close to 7,000 fans make the trip. That itself was a record for a State Championship fixture. Luckily for the people in attendance, the Rebels and the Eagles treated them to a thrilling encounter, leaving everyone on the edge of their seats.
Indeed, the score was tied at 2-2 going in extra innings, with both sides desperate to secure their first-ever State Championship title. As the game started to wind down, right-handed pitcher Jack Pilcher was on the mound for the Eagles. Meanwhile, right-fielder Will Harris was up to bat for the Rebels at that point.
With tensions high, Pilcher pitched the ball at Harris, only to see him hit it into the ground towards third base. From there, the third baseman and the shortstop made an attempt to intercept the ball, only to get in each other’s way. As a result of that, the Rebels fielder took his chance and looked to reach first base.
Due to the split-second of confusion in the Eagles’ field, Harris just about made it to first base, winning the State Championship in the process. Following that triumph, the right-fielder reflected on what happened during those tense final moments, as he touched upon his thoughts and feelings at the time.
Harris described the moment in an interview with The Indianapolis Star newspaper in June 2016. He said, “I tried to run as fast as I could [and] I tried to move my arms as fast as I could,” he added. “… I definitely know that I beat [the ball and] I was waiting for the throw to get there.”
Harris continued, “I was waiting, waiting, waiting and I made it through. I knew right when I touched the base that the ball wasn’t there,” he said. “But then I turned around and I saw a whole swarm of Rebels. That was probably the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life. It was pretty awesome.”
Indeed, Harris was swarmed by his delighted teammates, as they celebrated a historic victory for the Roncalli Rebels. However, Bertram of the Eagles reiterated that the game could’ve gone either way. Indeed, both teams created chances throughout the night at Victory Field.
“It was a play here and a play there all night,” Bertram recalled to The Indianapolis Star. “That’s baseball. Both teams were making plays.” The Eagles’ coach Jered Moore certainly agreed with that assessment, as he hailed his team’s efforts on the night and throughout the campaign.
“It was a great game,” Moore told the newspaper in June 2016. “To have the season we did, to make it this far, it shows what kind of kids and ballplayers they are. It stings a little, but doesn’t take away from the season they had.”
Moore’s players definitely felt the sting at the end of the game, as Pilcher slumped to the turf in sheer shock. While a few of his teammates did the same, the right-handed pitcher felt somewhat responsible for the defeat, citing his important role in the ninth inning.
“Right when [the winning run] happened, I was in shock,” Pilcher recalled to NBC-affiliate WTHR in June 2016 after the loss. “I just kind of collapsed by the mound, face first, I don’t know. You can’t feel much worse than I did. Especially being the pitcher at the end.”
However, Pilcher’s dismay didn’t go unnoticed by some of the opposition players. The Rebels’ catcher Cody Smith was one of them, as he caught sight of the crestfallen pitcher near the mound. “As I was walking to our side of the dugout I saw him on the ground,” Smith told WTHR.
With that in mind, Smith’s next move resulted in another memorable moment from the State Championship clash. He said, “I saw the heartbreak and the stress on all their players, but especially [Pilcher] laying almost lifelessly by the mound. It just really got to me and I just wanted to go over there and tell him everything was going to be alright.”
Smith then approached Pilcher and offered the Eagles pitcher a hand up from the turf. He eventually took it, before slowly working his way back to his feet. A few moments later, the pair shared a warm handshake, which led another Rebels player to follow suit.
Indeed, right-handed pitcher Michael McAvene also consoled Pilcher during the Rebels’ celebration on the field. Their efforts were certainly appreciated by the defeated Eagles player, but he focused on Smith’s initial act after the game. According to the Zionsville student, it picked him right back up from the disappointment.
“[Smith] tried to console me,” Pilcher told WTHR. “It really helped. It was probably better than anyone on my team could have said.” Meanwhile, McAvene suggested that the moment between the trio would live long in their memories, touching upon the sportsmanship on display that night.
“It will be something I will forever remember,” McAvene continued. “All three of us will remember. The world nowadays is kind of, not based on [sportsmanship], you don’t see that very much anymore,” he added. Smith couldn’t help but agree with one of those points, as he then spoke about his memories of the game.
“I will definitely remember the last play,” Smith said. “But I will also remember talking to [Pilcher] after the game.” However, while McAvene intimated that sportsmanship is a rarity today, there have been plenty of past examples that suggest it still exists. Indeed, one moment in particular proved incredibly similar to their act at Victory Field.
In the summer of 2005 the cricket teams of England and Australia competed in the latest Ashes series. The event, held that year across England, saw the two rivals battled it out over five grueling test matches for the famous urn. The visitors won the first test in London by over 200 runs, leading to the second a few days later.
Few people could’ve predicted what happened next, though, as England and Australia then played out one of the most dramatic test matches in the sport’s history. The five-day clash took place in Edgbaston, England, with the visitors winning the toss at the start. From there, Australian captain Ricky Ponting decided to start the game in the field.
But the decision ultimately backfired on Australia, as England then managed over 400 runs in their first innings. However, while the Baggy Greens had a mountain to climb, they still racked up over 300 runs themselves when they went in to bat. Incredibly, though, the best was yet to come.
England’s second innings ended with the hosts boasting a 281-run advantage, leaving Australia with plenty to do. The visitors subsequently clawed their way back into the match, as they slowly approached the desired total of 282. Unfortunately for them, the wickets were also falling as well.
Following a titanic clash, Australia were eventually bowled out for 279, meaning England won the test match by just two runs. From there, the hosts went on to claim the series 2-1, with the fourth test proving to be the clincher. Lauded by many as the best Ashes test series of all time, the event also boasted one enduring image.
At the end of the thrilling Edgbaston test, Australian batsman Brett Lee was left crestfallen by the narrow defeat. As the England players celebrated wildly in the field, Andrew Flintoff then broke away and approached his fallen opponent. Flintoff then dropped to his knees and offered Lee a warm handshake, and cameras captured the moment.
In Flintoff’s mind, though, that act of sportsmanship was just a natural reaction. “I was taught as a kid always respect the opposition first and celebrate after, which I did,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live in June 2013. “I went over to Brett Lee and shook his hand and there’s that picture, where I whisper in his ear, ‘It’s 1-1, son.’”
And while that last statement was made somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Flintoff’s gesture certainly made an impact on Lee, similar to Pilcher and the Rebels pair. Indeed, when the former retired from cricket in 2010, his Australian counterpart paid him a heartwarming tribute, focusing on that moment five years earlier.
“[Flintoff] always gave his heart and soul,” Lee told British newspaper The Telegraph in September 2010. “The moments we have had on the field and also the moments off the field are what make Flintoff the wonderful person he is. He’s a guy that has given his all, he has been great for world cricket.”
Meanwhile, across the pond, Pilcher looked back at the end of the State Championship game one more time, reflecting on his experience. The right-handed pitcher also touched upon the importance of Smith and McAvene’s gesture, regardless of the result.
“The way [the State Championship] ended with that kind of sportsmanship, it just kind of topped off the night,” Pilcher told WTHR in June 2016. “Even though we lost it was a great game. I am sure everyone in the stands would say the same thing.”