Jasonville is a two-gas station town nestled in the northwest corner of Greene County, Indiana. It centers around one main street on which everything is located—the post office, the gas station, the American Legion, the Subway—not half bad for a town of just over 2,000. On the western edge of the town sits a patch of grass and dirt surrounded by faded structures—a faded scoreboard that was once Carolina blue, faded dugouts of the same shade, foul poles so old that their yellow has dulled to little more than a shade of white. This might be the most noteworthy part of Jasonville, what makes it special. This small town located in the middle of a football-crazed country in a state noted for its hysterics surrounding basketball goes against those norms—it’s a baseball town.
This is where Braden Scott is from.
It’s mid-March in Terre Haute. As the NCAA Basketball Tournament rolls on the IU baseball team is taking on the Indiana State Sycamores in a non-conference matchup.
The Hoosiers lead 14-13 in the bottom of the eighth and in comes Scott—the tall, slender left-hander—from the bullpen. It’s his third appearance as a Hoosier and won’t be his last, but it’s a special one—he’s got a personal cheering section.
A contingent of friends, family, and Shakamak High School baseball fans have made the 45 minute trip up U.S. Route 150 from Jasonville for the chance to see the former Laker pitch for the Hoosiers. Among the group are a trio of Scott’s high school buddies, his entire family, and Shakamak baseball’s bus driver.
The man they’re all there to see strikes out a Sycamore batter to start the inning, but then he gets into trouble. A triple to center field puts a runner in scoring position for Indiana State. A single by the next batter plates the tying run. Another single—the third straight hit for ISU—puts a pair on with just one away.
What comes next is just what the Hoosiers need. Scott escapes the jam by getting a pair of fly outs. In the top of the ninth, third baseman Cole Barr smacks a homer over the left field fence. In the bottom of the inning, closer Matt Lloyd stifles the Sycamores. Indiana takes the game and Scott has earned his first win in the cream and crimson in front of the people who have supported him for years.
“I’ll never forget where I came from. The people there are amazing,” Scott said. “To be here and see how my communities have still kept up with me and still came to some of the games and stuff like that, it’s really cool.”
Scott’s traveling support section isn’t anything special to a Shakamak alumnus. “Baseball back home, there’s no way to describe it,” Scott said. “It’s something that from the second you can walk you’re pretty much at a baseball field. You’re groomed to play baseball. Basketball’s still pretty strong in our community, but baseball’s it.”
This couldn’t have been more evident than in Scott’s sophomore year, 2014, when the Lakers made a run all the way to the 1A state title game.
“The town shut down for the day pretty much,” Scott said. “Everybody was gone and in Indianapolis watching the game.”
In that game a big fifth inning allowed Shakamak to take down Rockville 3-2, giving it its second state title in school history. As is the custom in many small towns Shakamak got a police escort on its way home from the game, but rather than being picked up at the city limit, the escort met the team a little further away.
“We were actually escorted from the Brazil exit (of I-70) all the way to Jasonville which is like 30 minutes away,” Scott said. “We had police escorts for 30 minutes on the way home, it was crazy.”
A pink railroad car sits in a field on the west side of town. It was a gift to Jasonville to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding by The Indiana Rail Road Company. When it was presented nearly 10 years ago it was red, but in the decade since its debut it’s become weathered just like the rest of the town.
In that amount of time—decades upon decades—things develop, things grow, and then the way that things developed and grew are forgotten. That’s seemingly what has happened to Shakamak’s baseball culture.
Chip Sweet has been a fixture at the school for nearly four decades now. He just recently wrapped up his 39th and final year of teaching earlier this month. Sweet, a Shakamak alumnus, played on the baseball team before graduating in 1975 and went on to coach the team for over 20 years. His accomplishments include 14 conference titles, 14 sectional titles, six regional championships, three semi-state championships, and one state crown. To top it all off he was elected to the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017. He’s been around for a long time, yet not even he is sure of the origin of the passion for baseball in Jasonville.
“For whatever reason, they’ve always been a baseball school,” Sweet said. “It’s always been, as long as I can remember.”
The support that Scott, one of his former players, has received from the Shakamak community even after graduating wasn’t surprising to Sweet.
“A lot of the die-hard baseball fans in this community, when they know that a kid is gonna go on someplace and then it becomes someplace local where they don’t have to go very far to see him play,” he said, “there’s a lot of those people that would be thrilled to be able to go up there and see him.”
The former skipper believes that in part that support comes from the camaraderie of the Shakamak program.
“We were always a tight-knit bunch,” Sweet said. “We always had a great respect for each other and everybody pulled for each other.”
At the beginning of his junior year Scott committed to play for Marshall University. Just before he was supposed to head to campus he made a phone call and a campus visit which led to the southpaw heading to Olney Central College instead.
Things worked out pretty well for Scott as a freshman. In his first year with the Knights he posted an 8-1 record, recording a 1.23 earned run average and striking out 65 batters in 66 innings. He was just scratching the surface with those numbers though. Over the summer between his freshman and sophomore years he played in a summer league and made a jump as a pitcher that paid off in a big way.
“I was good for the conference that I was in at my junior college but then I got out and played some good competition and realized that I needed to step up a little bit more,” Scott said, “so when I came back my sophomore year I said I was gonna be a different guy.”
He was certainly a different guy. The lefty’s numbers took a leap. His record improved to 11-3, but the biggest difference was his strikeout total—it nearly doubled. In just over 20 more innings as a sophomore Scott struck out 53 more batters. His strikeouts per nine innings jumped from 8.86, a good number, to 12.04, an unbelievable number. His 118 strikeouts as a sophomore landed his name in the Olney Central record book. He became the school’s career strikeouts leader, but he also knocked off a pretty good pitcher, Jerad Eickhoff of the Philadelphia Phillies, for the single-season strikeouts record and he didn’t even know it.
“I didn’t even realize that I was even close to him and I didn’t really pay attention to the single-season strikeout record,” Scott said. “It was like the middle of the game, I had like four or five strikeouts and our assistant coach came up to me and was like ‘Hey congrats on beating the record.’ I kinda laughed, I didn’t realize it. It’s awesome because Eickhoff throws for the Phillies, he came out of Olney, he was probably the biggest guy to come out of Olney so it’s kinda cool to be up there with him.”
That superb sophomore season led to more division one interest for Scott. He committed to Murray State, but decided to reopen his recruitment and when he did a new school came knocking.
“That was when (IU head coach Jeff) Mercer called me and from the second that he called me I pretty much wanted to come here,” Scott said. “This is my dream school, it’s close to home.”
As a part of the process of transferring Scott has had to adjust to the environment at IU, which is different from everything he’s known before.
“It’s a lot. Not only just the sports, but the classes,” Scott said. “I graduated with 47 people and last year I had to give a presentation in front of a class full of like 90 people. It’s a lot different, but I love it.”
On the field, the left-hander made adjustments, just like he did between his freshman and sophomore years at Olney Central, because now he’s pitching in the Big Ten.
“Every level changes and you’ve gotta be able to adapt and make adjustments to how you approach how you’re gonna get hitters out,” Olney Central head coach Dennis Conley said. “Braden’s a smart kid and he’s got a good feel for pitching.”
This is something that Scott realized nearly right out of the gate as a Hoosier. The reliever struggled in his first appearance for IU, a two-inning outing in which he gave up a run and struck out three, but also walked three and threw three wild pitches.
“I threw in the first game at Tennessee and didn’t throw very well and realized I need to step up my game and Coach (Justin) Parker has definitely helped me and there are things I’m doing on my own and I’m trying to become a better pitcher here as well,” Scott said.
One of those things that Scott worked on is his control. Early this season he struggled with walks, something he hasn’t had to worry about before. He issued six free passes in his first seven innings this season but did manage to go three straight outings without a walk in March. He hasn’t walked a batter in over a month as his workload has grown for IU.
Now Scott, who has taken many steps as a pitcher, is working to make another one. From Shakamak to Olney Central and now IU, the lefty has worked to improve on the mound and now the guy known as a good teammate has his eyes set on one thing as the NCAA Tournament begins.
“That’s my biggest thing—being a dominant pitcher, going out and being a bulldog,” Scott said, “running through a lineup and getting outs for my team and putting them in a position to win a ballgame.”