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Baseball: Jimmy McNamara leads Lake Central to first state title

Lake Central Players celebrate their victory infield following their win. Lake Central High School Indians defeated Roncalli High School Rebels

Lake Central Players celebrate their victory on the infield following their win. Lake Central High School Indians defeated the Roncalli High School Rebels Saturday, June 16, 2012, at Victory Field in Indianapolis in the 2012 IHSAA Class 4A Baseball Championship game 1-0. | Doug McSchooler~for the Post-Tribune

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Updated: June 16, 2012 11:34PM



INDIANAPOLIS — It’s nothing new to see Jimmy McNamara throw pitches past bewildered hitters. To see him pump his fist and scream at the sky after a first-inning strikeout. To see him bound off the mound and into his teammates’ arms after a sharp inning.

But Saturday evening at Victory Field, McNamara was throwing just a little stronger. Pumping his first just a little harder. Bounding off the mound just a little faster.

“I was more fired up than ever,” the Lake Central ace said. “It was the last game I was ever going to play as a Lake Central Indian. So I was really hoping to be remembered for years.”

Oh, they’ll remember this one.

McNamara capped a remarkable high school career with the pitching performance of a lifetime, giving Lake Central its first state baseball championship by tossing a three-hit shutout in a 1-0 victory over Roncalli in the Class 4A title game.

McNamara allowed two infield singles and faced just three batters over the minimum as he made Austen Wagoner’s two-out, third-inning RBI single stand up. He retired the first 10 batters he faced, and finished with nine strikeouts against just one walk in a sensational swan song.

And to top it all off, he was handed the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award after the game, too.

“It’s like a dream come true,” McNamara said. “This is unbelievable.”

Indians coach Jeff Sandor has spent three years trying to find the adjectives to describe his stud left-hander after games like this. So he savored every pitch of his last chance to watch McNamara from a dugout.

“It was a gem,” Sandor said. “That kid’s a battler. He went to war all year. If you guys find a better one, tell me. Because I haven’t seen one.”

Sandor’s actually been coaching McNamara — and the seven other seniors on this close-knit team — for four years. He was their freshman coach before taking over the varsity job in 2010. Everywhere you went in the joyous mosh pit along the first-base line of Victory Field after the game, you heard the same thing, that these guys have all been playing together since they were 7 years old.

“We have eight seniors out there who just go to war for you,” Sandor said. “You ask them to run through a brick wall, and they run through a brick wall for you. I couldn’t be prouder of a group of kids. I hope this means a lot to them, because it sure as heck means a lot to me.”

It wasn’t easy. Never is with these guys, despite the gaudy 32-1 record. It was Lake Central’s fourth straight nail-biter. There was the 2-1 victory over Elkhart Central in the regional semifinals — revenge for last year’s crushing season-ending upset. There was the taut 3-1 victory over Penn in the regional final. There was the indescribable 4-3, nine-inning win over Zionsville in the semistate, in which the Indians needed three errors in the seventh inning to force extras.

And then there was this one. A splendid pitchers’ duel between the Central Michigan-bound McNamara (10-1) and Roncalli ace Colin Hawk (10-2), a Cincinnati recruit as a shortstop. Hawk allowed just four hits, and needed just 83 pitches to go seven innings.

He allowed two baserunners in the second thanks to an error on what should have been an inning-ending double play, but got a weak groundout and a strikeout to escape.

Hawk’s only misstep came in the third. With two out, Ryan Burvan bounced a single up the middle. Chase Fieldhouse walked, bringing up Wagoner, who had been struggling at the plate all season. But he came through when it mattered most, lacing a single to center field that scored Burvan. Hawk actually cut off the throw to the plate, infuriating catcher Nick Wright, who thought he had a chance to get Burvan.

“I’m proud of him,” Sandor said of Wagoner. “Talk about a kid not dwelling on things in the past.”

From there, McNamara took over. His perfect game bid ended with a one-out walk in the fourth, but that runner was erased on a double play. Two infield singles (one easily could have been ruled a throwing error) put runners on second and third with two out in the fifth, but McNamara got Drew Biddle to line out to right field to end Roncalli’s only real threat of the game.

Five times, the Rebels (23-9-1) only sent three batters to the plate — including the bottom of the seventh, in which Wagoner made three strong throws for putouts to seal the victory and send the Indians into a dogpile just off the mound.

“Incredible,” Wagoner said. “Just such a great feeling.”

That feeling wasn’t just joy. There was a palpable sense of relief, too. The Indians entered the season honored with — or saddled with, depending on your perspective — the No. 1 ranking in the state coaches’ poll, and the No. 1 ranking in the Midwest according to ESPN.

Sandor downplayed it early on, but the players embraced it. And on a frigid mid-April evening, McNamara stood on the mound on Lake Central’s field after yet another win, and said very clearly that it was state or bust. That anything short of a state championship would be “a failure.”

Well, on a sweltering mid-June evening, McNamara stood just off the first-base line with a medal around his neck and a huge smile on his face.

“I meant it,” he said. “This wasn’t going to be a successful season unless we came out like we just did. I think we all felt that way. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves the whole season, and it’s something we began to thrive on. And we came through. We did it.”



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