INDIANAPOLIS — Steve Stutsman’s white and blue baseball camp with the curlicue “EC” will probably forever have a tinge of orange, thanks to an energy-drink bath from his players.
But the Elkhart Central baseball coach doesn’t mind.
“It’s OK,” said Stutsman. “We’re state champions.”
For the first time in IHSAA baseball state tournament history, the state champions are from Elkhart.
Elkhart Central, led by senior Tanner Tully with a home run for the game’s lone run and 13 strikeouts as the winning pitcher, beat Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 Saturday, June 15, in the Class 4A title game at Victory Field.
The Blue Blazers (32-1) topped the Fighting Irish (28-1) in the first State Finals appearance for Central.
Both squads came in tied for No. 2 in the last Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Assocation poll. Central and Cathedral were 1-2 in the Prep Baseball Report rankings. The Blazers were No. 12 in the USA Today Super 25.
“This is awesome — for our kids, for our program, for our school, for the whole city,” said Stutsman after the 272nd win of his 18-year career. “I couldn’t be prouder of a group of young men.”
Elkhart Memorial was a state finalist in 1992 and Jimtown was a state runner-up in 1999 in the only other IHSAA State Finals appearance for an Elkhart County high school baseball program.
Tully, a left-handed swinger, led off the bottom of the first Saturday and took a 1-2 fastball from Cathedral sophomore right-hander Ashe Russell way beyond the right field fence.
“It was up there (in the strike zone) and I took it out,” said Tully of his 10th home run of 2013. “I think he only threw me one fastball and a lot of sliders after that.”
On the mound, Tully threw 103 pitches and scattered five singles — two by junior Alex Boos — and worked out of a two-on, no-out jam in the sixth inning.
“We get in jams and get out of them,” said Tully (10-1).
The Irish, making a fifth state championship game appearance and seeking a third title, opened the sixth with a single by senior Brendan Flood and junior Harry Shipley followed by reaching base when Tully’s throw on a bunt pulled senior first baseman Riley Futterknecht off the base.
Tully then got senior Luke Cureton to pop up a bunt back to the mound and Boos to fly out to senior center fielder Matt Eppers (who later was given the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award). When Flood tried to steal third base, junior catcher Kyle Smith fired the ball to senior third baseman Austin McArt for the third out of the inning.
“They probably ran themselves out of an inning, but they probably felt they needed to do something to score runs,” said Stutsman. “Kyle made a great throw and Austin put the tag down and we got out of the inning.
“That gave us momentum and it took momentum away from them.”
The Irish seventh opened with two strikeouts by seniors Austin Sparks (swinging) and Mike Hammel (looking).
The third Cathedral hitter, senior Sean Snyder, was plunked by a Tully pitch.
Tully then struck out Russell (swinging) to end the 1-hour, 18-minute game and begin the celebration for the Blazers, clad for the second straight game in blue camouflage uniform tops.
“I knew it was going to be a quick game,” said Stutsman, knowing who was pitching.
Senior Cory Malcom hit a one-out double for Central in the fourth as the only other Blazer to get past first base off the 6-foot-4 Russell (12-1), who has already verbally committed to Notre Dame.
McArt’s one-out single in the fifth was Central’s other hit.
“Words can’t describe how I feel right now,” said McArt, one of 11 seniors on the state championship roster. “It’s awesome. I was very nervous going into this game and that first ball hit to me helped me relax a little bit.
“Whenever Tanner pitches, we have complete confidence that he’s going to do his job. We all stick behind him defensively and do our job. We knew it was going to happen.”
Russell, who threw 67 pitches, finished with five strikeouts.
Tully and shortstop Malcom pulled a pick-off play — a timing maneuver they have done countless times since they were young kids — to end the Irish third.
“We work it all the time,” said Tully. “He gives a fist and we go.”
Senior Will Burch, Cathedral’s No. 9 hitter, produced a one-out single then stole second — the first of the team’s three on the night.
When Malcom made a signal, Tully wheeled and picked Burch off to end the Irish threat.
Cathedral saw its win streak end at 28 and Central ended the season with a 22-game skein.
“We made their first loss hurt,” said Tully.
The game marked the fourth one-run game out of four IHSAA championship games in 2013. Norwell (3A) won Friday while Lafayette Central Catholic (1A) and South Spencer (2A) also prevailed Saturday.
Central came to the Indianapolis area Friday, June 14, and practiced at Avon High School, then went to the hotel, ate and toured around town. On Saturday, the team practiced again at Avon before heading to Victory Field, which some folks had to take the long route to with a traffic tie-up on Meridian Street around 64th Street and a large industrial fire west of the park.
A homecoming celebration is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, June 17, in the Central gym.
4A State Championship
Elkhart Central 1, Indianapolis Cathedral 0
Cathedral 000 000 0 — 0 5 0
Central 100 000 x — 1 3 1
Ashe Russell (L, 12-1; 5 strikeouts, 0 walks) and Austin Sparks; Tanner Tully (W, 10-1; 13 strikeouts, 0 walks) and Kyle Smith.
Cathedral: Hits — Alex Boos 2, Brendan Flood, Mike Hammel, Will Birch. SB — Flood, Snyder, Birch. CS — Flood. HBP — Sean Snyder (by Tully).
Central: Hits — Tully, Cory Malcom, Austin McArt. HR — Tully. 2B — Malcom. RBI — Tully. Run — Tully.
U — Miles Mann, plate; Matt Buche, first base; Jeff Gwin, second base; Thomas Neuenschwander, third base. T — 1:18. A — 5,269 (3 games).
Records: Central 32-1, Cathedral 28-1.