Baseball: Taylor Lehnert tosses gem as Lake Central advances to semistate
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or firstname.lastname@example.org June 2, 2012 11:46PM
Lake Central pitcher Jimmy McNamara delivers a pitch to a Elkhart Central batter in the IHSAA Regional Baseball action Saturday June 2, 2012 in LaPorte, Ind. | Joe Raymond ~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 7, 2012 8:12AM
LAPORTE — All the rankings, the statewide hype, the national accolades — all of it meant nothing if Lake Central wasn’t hoisting hardware in June. Heck, back in early April, Jimmy McNamara said the season would be a failure if the Indians weren’t playing at Victory Field at the end of the season.
Well, they’re one step away.
Taylor Lehnert tossed a three-hit gem as Lake Central beat Penn 3-1 in the Class 4A LaPorte Regional championship game Saturday night at Schreiber Field.
The Indians (30-1) will face Zionsville in next Saturday’s semistate, likely at South Bend’s Coveleski Stadium.
Lehnert’s gem came just a few hours after McNamara locked down Elkhart Central in the second semifinal. The Indians only need once ace the rest of the way — “We have some thinking to do,” coach Jeff Sandor said — but you need two to get through regional Saturday, and perhaps nobody has a better two than the Indians (30-1).
“Knowing we have the best two pitchers in the state, and possibly two of the best arms in the country, definitely gives us confidence here and for the semistate,” said senior Anthony Fushi.
Fushi is emblematic of the remarkable depth this Indians team has.
While Chase Fieldhouse — the offensive hero of the semifinal — is a usual suspect, Fushi was a surprise star. He entered Saturday with a .231 batting average and just seven RBI in about half as many at-bats as most of the regulars.
He wound up with two hits in the semifinals, and followed Austen Wagoner’s game-tying RBI single in the third with a two-out, two-run single that proved to be the game-winner.
Fushi pulled a curveball on the outside edge for the big hit. It wasn’t exactly his plan, but against Penn ace Chad Whitmer (eight hits, eight strikeouts), he’ll definitley take it.
“I tried to go right side, but, oh, well, it worked out in my favor,” Fushi said. “Whatever you can get.”
Lehnert did the rest of the work. He started off a little shaky, and hit four batters total (he actually hit five, but the home plate umpire ruled Kyle Richard leaned into a pitch in the first inning, instead calling it strike three and stranding the bases loaded), but the Kingsmen (22-11) could barely touch him.
An error, two sacrifice bunts and a passed ball in the second inning led to Penn’s only run. Lehnert finished with six strikeouts.
And yes, he was trying to one-up his buddy and fellow Central Michigan recruit McNamara.
“We’re always competing,” Lehnert said. “I think that’s the reason why our team is doing as well as it is, we all just like to compete. We always try to do better than everyone else.”
Now comes the question of who Sandor will start against Zionsville.
McNamara is the likely choice, but both pitchers have ERAs around 0.70. Each has yielded seven measly earned runs all season.
“I’m not worrying, as long as we’re winning,” Lehnert said. “It’d be an honor to pitch, but if he gives the ball to Jimmy, he gives the ball to Jimmy. I’m OK with whatever, and I’m sure he’d say the same.”
Fushi said the Indians were proud to prove “the doubters” wrong, but so far, all the Indians have done is prove everyody right.
These guys are really good.
And they’re not done yet.
“I’m not going to go that far,” Sandor said of McNamara’s early state-or-bust proclamation. “Regardless of what has happened and what will happen, this season’s a success, no doubt about it. Do those kids want to win a semistate next week? No doubt. But we’re just thrilled to have five more days of practice and a shot to take the field again.”