LAPORTE — The wait is over.
Elkhart Central had to wait for a year for a chance to get back at the team that ended its 2012 baseball season.
The Blue Blazers did it, beating defending Class 4A state champion Lake Central 4-2 Saturday, June 2, in the championship game of the LaPorte Regional at Schreiber Field.
“It was 365 days of waiting,” said Elkhart Central coach Steve Stutsman. “We knew we were probably going to face them again.
“My guys were ready.”
Lake Central lost to Elkhart Central in the regional in 2011, then beat the Blazers a year ago.
This time, it is the Elkhart County team that is moving on to the semistate after getting the fourth regional title in program history — the first since 1988. The site of the one-game event on Saturday, June 8, will be determined based on how the other regionals turn out. Some were postponed until Monday, June 3, because of rain.
In the regional final, left-handers Tanner Tully (8-1) and Riley Futterknecht combined to pitch the Blazers to within two wins of the program’s first state crown. Tully, who worked four innings in a 5-4, 11-inning semifinal win against South Bend Clay earlier in the day, went the first four and Futterknecht tossed the last three for the save.
“I knew I was going to go four (against Lake Central),” said Tully. “The first game was rough. I gave it all I had left in this game.”
When Tully went to right field after leaving the mound, he used his speed to take away a would-be hit off the bat of Alec Olund to end the Indian sixth.
The Blazers (30-1) scored three runs in the third inning off lefty Chuck Alexa (3-1). Mike Namisnak singled and Tully walked and both scored on the same play when Kaleb DeFreese singled and Lake Central committed an error. DeFreese wound up scoring on a wild pitch.
A double by Matt Eppers, sacrifice by Casey Ianigro and balk by LC starter Chuck Alexa accounted for the other Blazer run.
The Indians (23-9) scored twice in the top of the fifth when Brenden Seren singled and scored on a wild pitch and Tony Schneider singled making way for a run scored by pinch runner Zach Turnbough on a Brad Staszewski single.
But that was all the hard-hitting team could get off Futterknecht.
“I have so much faith in Futterknecht,” said Stutsman. “He’s a gamer.”
Futterknecht worked in and out of jams the rest of the way and helped himself with his ability to field his position.
The errorless Blazers also turned a double play and got a big scoop from Mike Namisnak at first base when he went to that position and Futterknecht took the mound.
Lake Central advanced to the final with a 9-4 semifinal win against Portage in the day’s first game.
The Blazers, which surpassed the previous school victory record earlier in the day, had less than two hours to return to the field after the extra-inning win against Clay.
Stutsman watched his team bounce right back.
“Nothing fazes them,” said Stutsman. “They love playing together.”
In a game where the momentum see-sawed back and forth, Jesse Zepeda doubled home Austin McArt with the go-ahead run and reliever Tanner Tully (7-1) retired the side in the bottom of the 11th inning as the Blazers edged the Colonials.
“It was a curveball,” said Zepeda of the decisive hit. “I just stayed back a little bit and hit. That’s pretty much it.”
Zepeda said Central stuck together through the roller-coaster of emotions.
“We remained together as a team. Family, that’s what we are.”
Clay coach Chad Hudnall said the game had to be nerve-wracking for the players.
“As an adult, it’s not so hard to handle,” said Hudnall. “I don’t know how those kids do it with the adrenaline and the emotions.”
Central topped Clay 2-0 and 15-0 during the regular season. Those games featured Colonials pitchers issuing a total of 21 walks. On Saturday, they issued just one free pass.
In the third Central-Clay meeting of the season, right-hander Cory Malcom pitched the first seven frames for the Blazers with 10 strikeouts, no walks and a hit batsman. He gave up six hits, including solo home runs to Eric Kelver and Joey Stukenborg to lead off the bottom of the first and sixth innings.
“We have three aces on the mound,” said Malcom, referring to Tully, himself and Futterknecht. “We all go out there and compete.
“With our bats, no one can beat us.”
Central tallied three runs in the top of the first. Lead-off hitter Tully took a full-count pitch from right-hander Joey Lange over the left field fence for his ninth homer of the season. Casey Ianigro’s two-out double plated Malcom and Futterknecht, who had both singled.
The Blazers’ fourth run was scored in the third when DeFreese drew a lead-off walk and later scored on a Clay fielding error.
Clay pulled even at 3-3 with two runs in the third. Aaron Bond and Lange hit back-to-back one-out doubles. Both scored on separate Central fielding miscues.
The Colonials threatened in the eighth when Stukenborg hit a one-out double off Tully before the southpaw retired the next two hitters on a strikeout and fly-ball out.
Tully wound up facing 14 batters with five strikeouts and two hits allowed.
Central loaded the bases in the top of the ninth on three straight bunt singles by Matt Eppers, Ianigro and McArt, but Lange bared down and got the next three Blazers out to kill the rally.
In the other game, Lake Central beat Portage for the third time in 2013. The first two times it was 14-1 and 10-0. The winners broke open a close game with five runs in the second inning and added three more in the sixth.
4A LaPorte Regional
Elkhart Central 4, Lake Central 2
Lake Central 000 020 0 — 2 6 2
Elkhart Central 003 100 x — 4 5 0
Chuck Alexa (L, 3-1), Aaron Glatt (5), Brenden Seren (5) and Cody Brack; Tanner Tully (W, 8-1; 4 strkeouts), Riley Futterknecht (5) and Kyle Smith, Devin Prater (5).
Lake Central : Hits — Tony Schneider 2, Brad Staszewski 2.
Elkhart Central: Hits — Kaleb DeFreese 2. 2B — Matt Eppers.
U — Ed Strbjak, plate; Dan Adams, first base; Tim Mills, second base; John Wright, third base. T — 1:41.
Records: Elkhart Central 30-1, Lake Central 23-9.
Next: Elkhart Central vs. Team To Be Determined in Cass 4A northern semistate at South Bend or Kokomo Saturday, June 8.
Central 5, SB Clay 4, 11 Inn.
Central 301 000 000 01 — 5 11 2
Clay 102 001 000 00 — 4 8 1
Cory Malcom (10 strikeouts), Tanner Tully (8, W, 7-1; 5 strkeouts) and Kyle Smith; Joey Lange, Mitch Hartman (10, L) and Eric Kelver, J. Lange (10).
Central: Hits — Casey Ianigro 3, Malcom 2, McArt 2. HR — Tully. 2B — Ianigro, Jesse Zepeda. RBI — Ianigro 2.
Clay: Hits — Joe Stukenborg 3, Lange 2. HR — Kelver, Stukenborg. 2B — Lange, Stukenborg, Aaron Bond. RBI — Stukenborg 2.
U — John Wright, plate; Ed Strbjak, first base; Dan Adams, second base; Tim Mills, third base. T — 2:22.
Record: Clay 18-8.
Other game: Lake Central 9, Portage 4. Record: Portage 19-14.