By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – With an emphatic stomp of home plate, the final step of a three-run coup de grace, Lake Central’s Matt Santana put his foot down on Bedford North Lawrence’s comeback in the season opener.
Santana’s 360-foot blast and 360-foot trot around the bases – that’s what happens when a soul-crushing homer gets launched in the top of the seventh – sucked the life out of the Stars as the Indians conquered the Stars 8-3 on Wednesday afternoon.
That final is a little misleading. BNL was poised to stun Class 4A’s second-ranked team, fighting back from a 4-0 deficit with two manufactured runs, with a bomb from Ryker Hughes to scramble within a run. And in the bottom of the sixth, with two runners in scoring position, with leadoff hitter Cal Gates coiled to strike at the plate, the Stars could sense the upset.
Baseball is a funny game. Two swings changed everything. Gates drilled a sizzler up the middle that Lake Central relief hurler Collin Cirks snagged to get the third out. Five batters later, Santana ripped a one-out bomb off the scoreboard in left-center to clear the bases and take the air out of the Stars.
“That’s a good ballclub, they’re ranked No.2 in the state for a reason,” BNL coach Jeff Callahan said. “We wanted to battle to the end, put ourselves in position to win. And going to the bottom of the sixth, we had second and third with two outs, with Cal up. I would take that all day long.”
Instead, Santana (a Tennessee recruit) said ‘Take that’ with his home run as he celebrated while circling the bases, slamming his foot on the plate after the full circuit and getting the hero treatment from his teammates.
Lake Central (2-0, as it opened this three-game road trip to slightly warmer climate in the southern part of the state with a 15-5 win over Gibson Southern) jumped on top quickly, scoring once in the first on Garrett Weber’s sharp RBI single with two outs. The Indians added three more in the second, as Hughes (0-1) struggled for command while hitting two batters, giving up two RBI singles and balking in another run.
Enter BNL reliever Cade Mungle, and the scoring stopped. Lake Central is geared to attack fastballs, not the twisting pitches of the junior left-hander. Mungle worked 4 1/3 innings in relief, struck out five, and allowed only one hit. He gave the Stars chances to rally.
“He kept us in the game,” Callahan said. “There were a couple of times he kind of teetered, but he made some pitches. He can make guys look foolish up there when he’s got his stuff working. He gave us a chance.”
“We struck out too much,” said veteran Lake Central coach Mike Swartzentruber, a Washington native who has made previous coaching stops at North Posey and Martinsville. “Credit the lefty. He does a nice job of mixing it up. We hit velocity, but he mixed it up and kept us off balance. And we don’t work against lefties much.”
While Mungle was marvelous, BNL came back, scoring twice in the third. Gates led off with a single, Kaedyn Bennett walked, and both runners moved up on Jonny Stone’s ground out. Gates scampered home on a wild pitch, and Bennett chugged across on a Hughes ground out to make it 4-2.
In the sixth, Hughes led off with towering no-doubt homer to left, cutting the deficit to a single run.
“That got our dugout back into it” Callahan said. “It was good to see for Ryker.”
With two outs, Maddox Ray walked and Nate Pemberton rifled a single to left. Both advanced on a wild pitch. But on a 3-1 pitch, Gates cracked a bullet up the middle that Cirks grabbed, throwing to first to retire Gates and douse the rally.
In the seventh, BNL reliever Walker Ward got in immediate trouble with two walks and a catcher’s interference loading the bases. Jason Peabody grounded into a fielder’s choice with the infield drawn in, with Kline Woodward throwing to Stone at home for the force out. The next run scored on a wild pitch, and then Santana followed with his blast.
“We let things get away from us with control, but that’s going to happen early,” Callahan said. “We talk about the battle of free bases. We lost that battle tonight. Not just in one inning, we lost it for seven innings. It’s a seven-inning game.”
Santana and Hunter Synder (a Columbia recruit) had two hits each for Lake Central, ranked so high because it went 25-6 last season and lost to eventual state champion Penn in the regional final, highly regarded because it has two other Div-I recruits (John Adamczewski to Ball State and Griffin Tobias to Indiana). Cirks worked the last 3 1/3 innings on the mound and fanned five.
“All high school baseball teams will be, this early, an unfinished product,” Swartzentruber said. “We’re nowhere near right now where we ended last year. But I think we can get there. Preseason rankings don’t mean much, but by the end of the year we could be pretty good.
“We have guys that can work counts, running up pitch counts and getting into the bullpen, grinding out games and wearing down the opponent.”
Pemberton had two hits for the Stars.
Lake Central will finish its road trip at Bloomington South on Thursday (with Tobias, the staff ace, scheduled pitch). BNL will host Wisconsin’s West De Pere on Friday.