Perfect start as Stars roll past West De Pere in 2024 debut

BNL’s Ryker Hughes fires a pitch toward the plate during Friday’s season opener against Wisconsin’s West De Pere. Hughes allowed only one hit in six innings as the Stars cruised to an 8-0 win.

By Justin Sokeland

BEDFORD – The beginning was perfect. In terms of unseasonable Opening Night weather for a March debut, in terms of a dominating starting pitcher, it terms of a fast offensive start, Bedford North Lawrence was on point. Script that all the time, every time.

Ryker Hughes was a powerful force on the mound, Cal Gates and Maddox Ray triggered the attack at the top of the lineup, and the Stars opened the 2024 regular season with a sparkling 8-0 victory over Green Bay visitor West De Pere on Friday evening.

Hughes was overpowering, allowing only one hit and striking out 9 in six innings before Isaac Daria closed out the seventh after Hughes went past his predetermined pitch count. Gates and Ray combined for five hits and four runs, and both sets of fingerprints were all over BNL’s six runs in the first two frames.

“You couldn’t ask for a better start,” BNL coach Jeff Callahan said. “We always talk about scoring first, and we were able to get on the board, make some things happen, then extending the lead in the next inning was nice.”

BNL’s Cal Gates celebrates with Kline Woodward after scoring a run.

The Stars struck quickly in the first. Gates lashed the first pitch he saw for a single, and Ray followed with a perfect bunt single as Gates raced to third. Kline Woodward lofted a sacrifice fly for the run.

In the second, Walker Ward singled to right and Tate Tanksley walked. Both advanced on Cade Mungle’s bunt. With two outs, Gates was intentionally walked. Ray foiled that strategy with a two-run single to left. Gates scored on a wild pitch and Hughes blasted a two-run double to the base of the fence in right-center for a 6-0 lead.

“Maddox kind of busted it open,” Callahan said. “Cal is going to get that a lot. That’s a sign of respect. And I will do the same thing when we come up against those type of guys. You roll the dice with the next guy, and fortunately Maddox got a big hit for us.”

That was more than enough for Hughes on the mound. He allowed a lead-off single to Duke Shovald in the fourth, walked three, but was always able to make the big pitch at the right time. Most of the time that was a 90-mph fastball.

BNL’s Maddox Ray pumps up his teammates in the dugout after a two-run single in the second.

“That curveball is always my better pitch, but a lot of people can’t hit 90 in high school,” Hughes said. “You have to have that mindset that you will throw well. After we got those five runs, I settled down.”

“He has worked hard, physically and mentally, to prepare for his senior season,” Callahan said. “Very proud of him for doing that. He did like a lot of strikeout pitchers do, he had a lot of deep counts. But he made some nice pitches, did a fantastic job.”

BNL added two runs in the sixth. With one out, Trace Rynders walked, Gates singled, and Ray singled to load the bases. Woodward‘s walk plated a run, and Gates scored the final run on a wild pitch.

For West De Pere, making a fast weekend road trip from bad weather in Wisconsin to the relative sub-tropics of Southern Indiana, the journey has been a learning experience. The Phantoms (one of the great nicknames) started with a 3-0 win over Jennings County, and will conclude the bus tour with a clash against Providence.

BNL’s Cade Mungle executes a sacrifice bunt during BNL five-run rally in the second inning.

“For our players to spend four or five days together on a bus is huge,” WDP coach Joe Rukamp said. “Playing good teams and good competition is huge. This was a very good team, so this has been a perfect couple of days.

“Seeing a pitcher like that will help us. These are the kind of teams we want to compete against. He just got after our hitters, attacked us with the fastball. We didn’t handle it very well. Give him credit, he has that attitude and edge to get after it.”

Ray had three hits among BNL’s 10, and the Stars played mistake-free defense behind Hughes.

“When we play the type of teams we will see in the conference and sectional, you have to pitch and play defense,” Callahan said. “If we do those two things and get some timely hitting, we’ll be OK.”

BNL will continue a busy opening weekend on Saturday, facing Franklin and Evansville North in a split doubleheader before hosting Nazareth Academy from Illinois on Monday.

BNL’s Isaac Daria fires to first base to record an out. Daria also pitched an inning in relief.