RUSSIAVILLE — Since the inception of class sports, the annual early-season baseball matchup between Kokomo and Western had been solely for in-county bragging rights.
With Western moving up to Class 4A for the next two seasons because of the IHSAA’s new success factor, the rivals met up Wednesday as potential sectional opponents for the first time since 1997. It’ll be the Wildkats who’ll head into the postseason six weeks from now with the confidence of a victory over the Panthers, should the two meet again.
Senior knuckleballer Dustin Gamblin twirled a three-hitter, and Kokomo supplied enough offense to back him in a 4-2 road victory.
“Anytime you can beat a team like Western with what they’ve done in the past couple years you have to be excited about that,” Kokomo skipper Tim Weeks said. “The conditions [Wednesday] were brutal — very cold. They battled and we battled, but we were in control pretty much the whole way, and I was happy with the way our kids played. We played as a team and a had a lot of guys step up and do good things.”
With a heavy, cold wind blowing straight at the backstop throughout, offense came at a premium.
But, Gamblin was outstanding, allowing just two runs, one earned, on the three hits, one walk and one hit batsman. Western pushed a pair of runs across in the first inning, but Gamblin rebounded with six scoreless innings to close the contest out, keeping the Panthers off balance with unorthodox offerings.
“He’s just a smart kid,” Weeks said of Gamblin. “He couldn’t throw hard enough to break glass if he had to, but he’s a kid who just knows how to hit spots. He’s got that funky knuckleball that kids aren’t used to seeing. He’s just a good, smart pitcher, and that’s what you need at the high school level — or any level.”