SOUTH BEND — There was no panic in these Blue Blazers.
After falling behind 1-0 in the fifth inning, No. 2-ranked Elkhart Central responded with two runs in the bottom of the fifth and went on to a 2-1 win against Lafayette Jeff in the Class 4A South Bend Semistate baseball championship Saturday, June 8, at Coveleski Stadium.
Senior Riley Futterknecht’s two-out bloop single scored senior Cory Malcom with the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fifth inning and senior left-hander Tanner Tully (9-1) went the distance for the pitching victory.
“I heard my guys from the dugout and I just couldn’t let them down,” said Futterknecht. “I was getting a hit no matter what.”
Central coach Steve Stutsman was also sure something good would happen.
“I had all the confidence in the world in them,” said Stutsman after his squad’s sixth tournament win and 24th straight triumph overall. Central advances to the 4A state championship game against co-No. 2 Indianapolis Cathedral (28-0) at approximately 7 p.m. Saturday, June 15, at Victory Field in Indianapolis. The Fighting Irish nipped Jeffersonville 4-3 for the Plainfield Semistate title.
“They didn’t wait (after Jeff took the lead). That’s the sign of a championship team,” said Stutsman. “That changed the momentum on our side.”
The resilient and confident Blazers tied the score when Tully rapped a one-out single, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Malcom’s double off senior right-hander Peter Ripke (7-3).
“When he got to two strikes, he was throwing us change-ups,” said Stutsman of Ripke. “We were hitting the ball hard, but right at people.”
Malcom’s double came off a fastball.
“He put it right in the zone,” said Malcom.
The team’s vocal leader, Malcom rallied his teammates after Central fell into the 1-0 hole.
“Everybody has the jitters a little bit when you’re down,” said Malcom, a University of Arkansas-Little Rock signee. “But we came in the dugout and had a little pep talk and we got back up and were confident again. We knew we had good hitters coming up and we knew we were going to do it.”
Central will be the third high school baseball team from Elkhart County in the State Finals. Memorial lost in the semifinals in 1992. Jimtown was beaten in the Class 2A title game in 1999.
The Bronchos (22-13) had scored the game’s first run when lead-off hitter Austin Albrecht drew a two-out walk, moved to third on an error on a ball hit by Bailey Perdue and scored on the front half of a double steal.
Tully, who is bound for Ohio State University, gave up four singles, struck out 11 and walked three. Of his 91 pitches, 60 were strikes.
Vincennes University recruit Ripke fanned six and gave up eight hits, including seven singles, and walked one.
Central got a scare in the top of the fifth when junior catcher Kyle Smith was overwhelmed by heat exhaustion and had to come out of the game for senior Devin Prater.
“I told Tanner I was dizzy as I was walking back (from the mound),” says Smith, who reported being fine after getting some water.
While he was behind the plate, he was impressed by the Blazers’ ace.
“Tanner was being Tanner,” said Smith. “He was throwing 90 mph with a disgusting breaking ball.”
Tully talked about getting stronger as the game progressed.
“I was bearing down and making every pitch like it was my last,” said Tully, who guessed his best pitch on the day was his curveball.
When he nailed down the win — his fourth during the Blazers’ postseason run — there was a blue camouflage jersey-colored dogpile of Central players on the mound.
4A South Bend Semistate
Central 2, Lafayette Jeff 1
Lafayette Jeff 000 010 0 — 1 4 1
Central 000 020 0 — 2 8 1
Peter Ripke (L, 7-3; 6 strikeouts) and Reid Pittard; Tanner Tully (W, 9-1; 11 strikeouts) and Kyle Smith, Devin Prater 5.
Lafayette Jeff: Hits — Bailey Perdue, Griff Clark, Keaton Hamilton, Reid Pittard. Run — Austin Albrecht. SB — Clark, Hamilton, Perdue, Austin Albrecht.
Central: Hits — Tully, Kaleb DeFreese, Cory Malcom, Riley Futterknecht, Matt Eppers, Casey Ianigro, Austin McArt, Jessa Zepeda. 2B — Malcom. RBI — Malcom, Futterknecht. Runs — Tully, Malcom. DP — 1.
U — Scott LaPlace, plate; Zach Sliwa, first base; Thomas Neuenschwander, second base; Jeff Gwin, third base. T — 1:24. A — 1,695.
Records: Central 31-1, Lafayette Jeff 22-13.
Next: Central vs. Indianapolis Cathedral in Class 4A state championship at Victory Field in Indianapolis Saturday, June 15.