Baseball: Lake Central pulls off improbable victory, trip to state final
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or firstname.lastname@example.org June 9, 2012 9:14PM
Lake Central's Ryan Pachowicz celebrates with his team their semi-state win Saturday, June 9, 2012. | Erik A. Markov~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 11, 2012 10:34AM
KOKOMO — The ending was bizarre. Of course, it was. You can’t end a game like this with a routine grounder, or a simple punch-out. That would be way too easy.
No, this one ended on a strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play. And not just any strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play, mind you. On this one, both Lake Central shortstop Austen Wagoner and second baseman Ryan Burvan closed in on catcher Zach Mantel’s bullet to second.
So of course, they collided. Of course, Wagoner still snared the ball.
And of course, he still got the tag down in time for the last out.
Of course, that’s how it ended. This one couldn’t have ended any other way.
Lake Central’s wild 4-3, nine-inning victory over Zionsville at Kokomo’s Highland Park in the Class 4A northern semistate on Saturday was hard to put into words.
So was the feeling that the giddy Indians had afterward, finally reaching the state championship game after seemingly a lifetime of playing together.
“Crazy game, crazy ending,” said Indians pitcher Taylor Lehnert, who threw four-plus spectacular innings in relief of starter Jimmy McNamara, at one point striking out seven straight Zionsville batters.
“I don’t even know what to say.”
Or how to explain it, for that matter. As wild as the last play of the game was, it qualified as routine in this one. The way Lake Central tied it in the top of the seventh and took the lead in the top of the ninth? That was the crazy stuff.
The Indians — whose first batter of the game, Nick Kellams, scored — found themselves down 3-1 entering the top of the seventh inning, thanks to a pair of RBI singles by the Eagles (28-6) in the bottom of the fifth, which chased McNamara.
Before the seventh, LC coach Jeff Sandor tried to keep his kids calm and confident, even though they were three outs from a premature ending.
“We got this,” he said he told them. “Stay loose. Stay under control. We’ve been in the situation to score runs all game. Let’s get the leadoff runner on.”
The Indians did. Just not the way they expected.
Alec Olund led off the inning with a simple infield pop-up. But Zionsville’s Ohio State-bound shortstop, Troy Kuhn, simply dropped it.
On the next play, a Nick Kellams grounder to first turned into two more errors — the first baseman threw wide to short, then Kuhn threw back to first, where nobody was within 15 feet of the bag. The throw went into the dugout, and suddenly Lake Central had a run in and a runner at third with nobody out.
“After we saw that pop-up, everybody in the dugout just dropped,” said senior Ryan Pachowicz. “Then he dropped it and everything changed. Right when that happened, we knew we had a chance to win the game.”
Or, as Wagoner put it: “We went crazy when he dropped that. Absolutely crazy.”
After Burvan grounded out, Chase Fieldhouse was intentionally walked and Wagoner popped out to second, Pachowicz did what he’s done all season — come up with a big two-out hit. His double to right-center tied the game at 3-3, but Fieldhouse was thrown out at the plate (of course, he was), forcing extra innings.
“It’s nice to be able to get a big hit like that,” Pachowicz said.
Lehnert took over from there. After striking out the last two batters in the sixth, he struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh and the first two batters in the eighth before inducing an easy fly-out to end the inning.
With McNamara — who pitched “pretty stinkin’ good, too,” as Sandor put it — on the mound (and likely to start a hypothetical state title game, too), Lehnert wondered if he’d ever pitch again in a Lake Central uniform.
So when he got the chance, he made the most of it.
“We told (McNamara), ‘Just throw as good as you can, and know that I’ll be there to back you up, to close it out,’” Lehnert said of his fellow Central Michigan recruit. “It felt good to come in during a tough situation, and be fortunate enough to get out of it.”
In the top of the ninth, Kellams (single) was on first base with two out. But Zionsville coach John Zangrilli — who saw Fieldhouse rip an RBI double in the first inning — intentionally walked him for the third straight time with runners on base, this time putting the go-ahead run in scoring position.
Sandor couldn’t believe it.
“That was bush league,” he said. “Pitch to the kid. Go after him. Be tough in that situation.”
The move cost the Eagles dearly. Mic Richey — pitching in relief of ace Parker Dunshee, who struck out 11 in eight stellar innings — plunked Wagoner to load the bases, then plunked Pachowicz to push in what proved to be the winning run.
Just another routine sequence in this one.
“Baseball’s a game of little things,” Pachowicz shrugged.
All those little things have led Lake Central to the biggest game of all. The top-ranked Indians (31-1) will face Roncalli next Saturday at 6 p.m. central time.
So after all these years together, so many of these Indians will end their careers at Victory Field.
Of course, they will. This story couldn’t end any other way.
“Unbelievable,” Lehnert said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team to play with. We’ve been playing forever. It just feels great to get to state. But we’re not done yet. Got one big game left.”