ELKHART — Central pitcher Riley Futterknecht started the championship of the Class 4A Elkhart Sectional baseball tournament for the third straight year.
This time, the left-hander got to finish what he started and helped the No. 2-ranked Blue Blazers beat crosstown rival Memorial 3-1 Tuesday, May 28, at Memorial’s Charger Field.
“There was no way I was coming out of the game,” said Futterknecht (7-0), who tossed 116 pitches and struck out 12 while allowing two hits (an infield single by Daniel Asbury and single by Dallas Russell), four walks and a hit batsman as Central improved to 28-1 with its 21st straight victory.
“As his pitch count goes up, he gets stronger,” said Central coach Steve Stutsman of Futterknecht, his No. 3 starter. “I have a lot of faith in Riley. He’s a competitor.”
Memorial coach Scott Rost credited Futterknecht for his ability to keep his hitters guessing.
“I was impressed,” said Rost. “He doesn’t have the velocity of Tanner Tully or Cory Malcom, but he did a good job of mixing his pitches and moving his pitches in and out.
“He would be a No. 1 on a lot of teams,” he added.
In three sectional victories, Blazers pitchers piled up 38 strikeouts and gave up only one run. Senior lefty Tully (6-1) fanned 14 in a 3-0 win against Concord Friday, May 24, and senior right hander Malcom (9-0) whiffed 12 in a 5-0 triumph against Northridge on Saturday, May 25.
The Blazers will meet South Bend Clay in the second semfinal at the LaPorte Regional Saturday, June 1. The first semifinal (Lake Central vs. the LaPorte Sectional winner, to be determined Wednesday, May 29) is at 11 a.m. (Elkhart time). The championship is at 8 p.m.
Central, which had beaten Memorial 18-2 during the regular season, scored twice in the second inning of the rematch.
Senior Casey Ianigro led off with a single and scored on senior Austin McArt’s triple. McArt trotted home on senior Mike Namisnak’s single.
Ianigro, who ended up with two hits in each of the three sectional victories, bats No. 6 in the Blazers’ batting order while McArt is No. 7 and Namisnak No. 9.
“I expect everyone of them to put the ball in play,” said Stutsman. “(Opponents) can’t concentrate on our top four hitters or whatever.”
Ianigro credited assistant coach Steve Asbury for his hitting advice.
“Coach Asbury told me to keep my weight back and stay focused,” said Ianigro. “I did what I could to get us started up.”
In the bottom of the fourth, lead-off man Tully hit a two-out double and scored on a single by senior No. 2 hitter Kaleb DeFreese to account for the Blazers’ other run.
Ianigro noted that the rain that caused postponements of their first and third tournament games were more annoying that anything else, but Stutsman kept things in perspective.
“He told us to worry about the things we can control,” said Ianigro. “We can’t control the weather. But we can control effort and hustle. That’s what we did.
“This is a special team,” he said.
Tully wound up sectional play with four hits, including a pair of doubles. Futterknecht (three singles) and McArt (two singles and a triple) had three hits each.
Memorial (7-24), which fielded a starting lineup with four sophomores (Daniel Asbury, Scottie Clark, Cameron Maxwell and Derrick Oley), three juniors (Russell, Brock Herman and Jake Tucker) and two seniors (Robert Asbury and Trey Solomon), got its run in the fifth when Herman was plunked by a pitch, went to third on Russell’s single and came home on the front end of an attempted double steal.
Rost’s plan going into Tuesday was to use at least three pitchers. Starter Clark (3-7) went three, Tucker (who threw 107 pitches in Saturday’s eight-inning 5-3 win against Warsaw) pitched two and Herman one.
“I was really proud of the job our three pitchers did,” said Rost. “We kept (Central) off-balance a little bit. From a pitching and defensive perspective, we gave ourselves an opportunity to stay in the game for seven innings.”
4A Elkhart Sectional
Central 3, Memorial 1
Memorial 000 010 0 — 1 2 1
Central 020 100 0 — 3 9 2
Scottie Clark (L, 3-7), Jake Tucker (4), Brock Herman (6) and Robert Asbury; Riley Futterknecht (W, 7-0; 12 strikeouts) and Kyle Smith.
Central: Hits — Tanner Tully 2, Casey Ianigro 2. 3B — McArt. 2B — Tully, Matt Eppers.
U — Steve Kazjer, plate; Adam Tomlinson, first base; Frank Tasler, third base. T — 1:46.
Records: Central 28-1, Memorial 7-24.
Next: Central vs. SB Clay in semifinals of Class 4A LaPorte Regional Saturday, June 1, following 11:30 a.m. game; championship at 8 p.m.