BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
SOUTH BEND — Caston baseball coach Blake Mollenkopf believed that South Central won their Class 1A regional semifinal more than his team lost it.
Sam Smith Caleb Stinson
Regardless, the season ended for the No. 9 Comets after equaling their furthest advancement ever in the state tournament.
Jackson Bos ripped a go-ahead two-run double, and Zachary Hancher added a three-run double in the sixth inning to lead the No. 4 Satellites to a 7-3 win at South Bend Clay Reinebold Stadium.
Trailing by four, Caston got the leadoff hitter on base in both the sixth and seventh innings but could not score.
South Central improved to 20-9 and advanced to the regional final. Caston finished 19-7.
“A tip of the hat,” Caston coach Blake Mollenkopf said. “I think they went and won it.”
Sam Smith had RBI singles in both the first and third innings and went 2 for 2 in his final prep game. Caleb Stinson also had two hits. Joey Spin doubled and scored a run but took the loss on the mound. Talon Zeider walked three times from the leadoff spot in the order and scored twice.
Caston’s previous regional appearance came in 2012 and resulted in a 16-6 loss in five innings to Fort Wayne Blackhawk on their home field.
This time, Caston led after five innings, claiming a 3-2 lead when Spin scored on a passed ball in the bottom of the fifth. It was Caston’s first advantage after South Central had scored twice in the top of the first.
The young, intrepid Satellites – eight different sophomores saw the field – responded off Spin in the ensuing half-inning.
Bradley Ferrell, a Kentucky commit, grounded a sharp single to center, and Bricen Glisic sent a hard grounder to right-center for another single that moved Ferrell to third. Alex Newburn, pinch-running for Glisic, stole second.
Bos, a sophomore catcher, then hit a liner to the left-center field fence to score Ferrell and Newburn and make it 4-3.
A Spin breaking ball clanked off the leg of Jacob Oehmen to put runners on first and second. Aaron Hogan’s sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third. Spin then struck out Brayden Grass looking for the second out.
South Central coach Zach Coulter brought up Matthew Knight to pinch-hit for No. 9 hitter Brandin Young. Knight squeezed out a walk, taking ball four just off the outside corner.
Hanchar then hit a fly to deep center on a Spin change-up. It dropped, and courtesy runner Tyler Carr, Oehman and Knight all scored to make it 7-3.
“They were really good,” Mollenkopf said. “We knew their top four or five hitters were going to be hard, especially to try to get them out three or four times. That nine spot where we lost him late, that was tough. He’s a pinch-hitter, and we were trying to get him to bite and bite, and we did early, and then he stayed off of them late, and that was a good at-bat by (Knight). Then we led the lead-off guy (Hanchar) with a change-up, and he stayed back and hit it well. In a game like that, where things are tight, it’s one swing of the bat usually, and that was the one swing.”
Coulter counted on his players to make adjustments against Spin.
“We have an expression ‘Hold the Rope,’ and right there is a perfect example of holding the rope,” Coulter said. “We just battled and stayed in it and knew that we had an advantage if we could get around to the top of the order again.”
South Central then sealed it with defense.
Preston Holderfield led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk. One out later, Stinson singled him to second.
But Grass, who entered in relief of Oehmen with no outs in the fifth, struck out Edison Byrum.
That brought up Zeider, who sent a soft grounder to the right side that eluded Glisic at first base. But second baseman Thomas Sullivan ranged far to his left and made an off-balance throw that a covering Grass caught on the short hop while locating the bag with his right foot for the third out.
“We said that we had to eliminate freebies,” Coulter said. “We had too many leadoff walks, which behind the walks, we have to have good defense. … I thought what really let the air out of the room a little bit for us was making that 4-1 (second base to pitcher) putout. We practiced that all week in practice and executed it perfectly.”
In the seventh, Pete DuVall walked and Smith was hit by a pitch, but Grass induced Jackson Rentschler to ground into a game-ending double play.
“I thought they made nice plays in the sixth and seventh defensively to keep us from putting a few runs up here and there,” Mollenkopf said. “And that’s how you advance in the regionals, by making plays like that.”
Spin allowed only two earned runs in 14 sectional innings against West Central and North Miami, but it took only one inning for South Central to get to him for two runs.
Ferrell tripled home Sullivan, who had singled, and later scored on Glisic’s RBI groundout to Rentschler at first.
Caston got one of those runs back off Oehmen in the bottom half. Zeider walked, went to second on a wild pitch, went to third on Spin’s grounder to short and then scored when Smith lined a two-out RBI single between the third baseman and the shortstop.
Both Spin and Oehmen worked 1-2-3 innings in the second with Spin getting help on a nifty play by Zeider at shortstop to throw out Andrew Huizar.
Spin struck out Glisic on a pitch in the dirt with two on to escape a jam in the third, with Smith, the catcher, throwing Glisic out at first to complete the strikeout and end the inning.
With one out in the bottom of the third, Zeider walked, and DuVall bunted him to second. Coulter elected to intentionally walk Spin, but Smith foiled the strategy with a single to center.
Mollenkopf waved Zeider around. The throw to try and get Zeider at the plate bounced several times, allowing Zeider to slide in safely.
“He was really locked in,” Mollenkopf said of Smith. “Stayed short and just hit the ball hard. … If you give him a fastball with his short swing, he’s going to hit it hard. We just happened to have runners on base when he did that. … Up and down, I felt like our at-bats were OK.”
Oehmen was at second with one out in the fourth when Spin stepped off the rubber and threw to DuVall at third to catch Oehmen trying to steal. Spin would eventually strike out Brayden Gross with a runner on second to retire the side.
Stinson floated a two-out single to right-center in the bottom of the fourth, but Caston didn’t score.
Zeider made another sharp play at short, handling Sullivan’s short-hop liner and throwing him out at first, to complete a 1-2-3 fifth.
Zeider led off the fifth with a walk, and Grass relieved Oehmen on the mound. With one out, Spin sent a hard-hit ground double down the left-field line into the corner. Zeider ran through Mollenkopf’s stop sign and was thrown out at the plate.
“You live with it,” Mollenkopf said. “I’ve always told my teams if you make an aggressive mistake, I’m never going to yell at you. … Fortunately, they had a passed ball, and we got one anyway.”
Spin went to third on the throw home. This time, Coulter elected to walk Smith intentionally.
But a breaking ball to Rentschler was dropped and went to the fence, and Spin scored without a play.
Caston had the lead.
“Trying to study this team and who they’re going to pitch is crazy,” Mollenkopf said. “For us, it’s pretty clear – Spin one, DuVall two. But for them, they’ve got a lot of arms. They throw hard, but they can be a little bit sporadic, so I think he was trying to piece it together.
“But I felt like our job was to hit the fastball when it was in the zone. They like to mix the breaking ball, but they threw it for enough strikes today.”
In the second semifinal, No. 10 Fremont eliminated Morgan Township 9-3. South Central then went on to beat Fremont 6-3 in the regional final.
South Central will play No. 3 Lafayette Central Catholic in the semistate at noon Saturday at LaPorte in the semistate.
South Central (Union Mills) 7, Caston 3
South Central 200 005 0 – 7 10 1
Caston 101 010 0 – 3 5 1
WP – Brayden Grass (3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 HBP, 3 K)
LP – Joey Spin (7 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 7 K)
2B – Jackson Bos (SC), Zachary Hanchar (SC), Joey Spin (CAS)
3B – Bradley Ferrell (SC)