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Caston wins first conference baseball title under Mollenkopf

Comets win final 8 Hoosier North games, capped off by home win over LaVille


Sports Editor, RTC

The Caston baseball team poses for a team photo after defeating visiting LaVille 11-7 Friday to win the Hoosier North title. Caston was 3-3 at one point in the conference standings but won its final eight games to finish 11-3. The conference title is the first for coach Blake Mollenkopf, who is in his 18th season. Caston will play North White at 8 p.m. tonight in a Class 1A, Sectional 52 quarterfinal at North White.

FULTON — Never too high, never too low.

Caston baseball coach Blake Mollenkopf always speaks of an even-keeled approach to the game.

It might apply to his demeanor for all things outside of baseball as well.

So after not winning a conference baseball title in his first 17 years as coach and then starting off 3-3 this year – not awful but not at a conference championship standard either – what was one more sweat-soaked half-inning?

The wait is finally over.

Led by the two hits, three RBIs and strong pitching from Talon Zeider, Caston beat visiting LaVille 11-7 in a winner-take-all conference championship game Friday.

Caston improved to 12-9 overall and finished conference play 11-3. LaVille fell to 14-8, 10-4.

In their final eight conference games, Caston went 8-0 and outscored their opposition 72-16.

Caston trailed 3-0 going into the bottom of the second but scored four times to take the lead. Sophomore Gavin Mollenkopf’s two-out, two-run single gave the Comets a 4-3 lead.

“It was huge,” coach Mollenkopf said of Gavin Mollenkopf’s hit. “Because if you do all that work and we had a base hit to right, and I thought we could have scored on it, but they’ve got good outfield arms. We didn’t want to press it that early and run out of an inning. We wanted to give Gavin a chance there, and he came through in a big way, a nice single to left. To get back at them after we made some miscues and they got on us, it was huge, but that’s the mentality of this team right now. They don’t think anything is impossible at this point, so that’s good.”

Senior right fielder Grant Yadon called his team’s resilience “amazing.”

“That was real big for us because a lot of times we have problems getting down on ourselves after something like that, and I was so proud of the team the way we fought back today,” Yadon said.

Yadon had three hits and three runs scored, and Pete DuVall and Lance Hanna had two hits each. Edison Byrum went hitless, but he had two sacrifice flies and had three RBIs. Freshman Eli Holloway had a single, a walk and an RBI. Caleb Stinson walked twice and scored twice.

After not scoring in the third through the sixth innings, LaVille scored four runs in the seventh and loaded the bases with one out. But with the tying run at the plate, Zeider struck out Riley Filley and got Lucas Plummer to pop to Lance Hanna to end the game.

Zeider got the final out just in time. A player can throw no more than 120 pitches in a high school baseball game, and the game ended on Zeider’s 119th pitch.

Players celebrated by flinging their gloves in the air.

“It feels pretty good,” Zeider said. “We struggled a little bit at the end, but we got the job done. That’s all that matters.”

Mollenkopf has coached Caston since 2006. The team has won sectional titles in 2012 and 2022 during his reign. Caston finished second behind North Judson last year.

He believes that Caston had not won a conference championship in baseball since 1976 or some time around then.

Caston was in the Midwest Conference for the first nine years of Mollenkopf’s coaching stint when it was not uncommon for Caston to face ranked rivals from Frontier, Tri-County or North White. 

Caston moved to the Hoosier North in 2015. The pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2020 season.

Zeider, DuVall, Caleb Stinson, Yadon and Byrum have spent four years in the program. Hanna is a move-in from Rossville that gives the lineup a sixth senior.

“The main focus wasn’t getting too high or too low in the game,” Byrum said. “It was just staying level and making sure we were still locked in throughout the whole game.”

Coach Mollenkopf has kept a similar message to the seniors throughout their careers, according to Zeider. “Every year, he tells us just try to get double digits (wins), and we know that 3-3 means you can still get double digits,” Zeider said. “So we just worked ourselves and just got to where we needed to be.”

After posing for a team photo, the baseball team posed for a joint photo with the Caston softball team at home plate. The softball team arrived home just in time for the final out after beating Pioneer 5-1 in Royal Center for their own conference title.

Caston finished their regular season with a 12-4 loss to Lafayette Central Catholic Monday. They will play North White at 8 p.m. tonight at North White in a Class 1A, Sectional 52 quarterfinal.

Caston 11, Laville 7

LaVille 030 000 4 – 7 10 3

Caston 043 031 X – 11 11 4

WP – Talon Zeider (7 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 6 K)

LP – Collin Czarnecki (2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 1 K)

2B – Collin Czarnecki (LV), Talon Zeider (CAS)

The Caston softball and baseball teams celebrate winning conference titles Friday. The softball team beat Pioneer 5-1 to earn their third consecutive outright Hoosier North title. The baseball team knocked off LaVille 11-7 to what is believed to be its first conference title since the 1970s.

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