Cavs edge Triton for Sectional 51 title

CULVER — Culver Community’s young baseball team opened the year with just one win in its first 13 games. Fast forward to Tuesday, and the Cavaliers are sectional champions.
Collin Stevens scattered six hits pitching a complete-game shutout, Nick Pritz scored both of the Cavs’ runs, and the home team got back on top, 2-0 over Triton at Class A Sectional 51 in Culver Tuesday night.
The win restored the Cavs to the title after the Trojans unseated them in last year’s sectional semifinal a year after the Sectional 51 hosts ended a quarter-century championship drought in 2011. Culver now advances to play North White in the second game at the Caston Regional Saturday, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET.
“It’s amazing,” said Stevens. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to play on our home field here and win sectionals. Now we’ve got to go to Caston this Saturday and try to get another trophy.”
While Culver’s young lineup played like veterans under pressure Tuesday, the team got a knockout pitching performance from a four-year holdover in Stevens.
Stevens built efficiently off his curveball to finish with six strikeouts versus six hits, one walk and a hit batter, and he worked himself out of numerous jams as Triton left two on in the fourth and fifth innings and left the bags packed in the sixth.
“My offspeed is probably my number one pitch because I don’t throw very hard in the first place,” said Stevens. “I try to spot my pitches. I like my curveball and maybe a little bit of a two-seam fastball that dies a little bit. That has to work for me or I struggle at the mound.”
“Today he’s the kid we wanted on the mound,” said Elliott. “He handles pressure, throws strikes. He kept the ball down tonight, kept them off balance, and for the most part we had some really good defensive plays.”
Triton left eight runners on over the last four frames as Stevens was backed up by an errorless Cavalier defense that made several big plays highlighted by a seated throw to first from second baseman Shawn Russell and a backpedalling over-the-shoulder catch by right fielder Mark Hurford.
But no stop was bigger than the one Stevens made for himself with the bases juiced in the sixth — a falling save of a hard Ben Perkins liner back to the mound to end the Trojan threat and preserve the shutout.
“That play was really just reflex. I luckily put my mitt in the right place,” said Stevens.
“I couldn’t believe it; I was so happy that there were two outs because who knows? If there would have been one up the middle I might have dropped it or if it deflected off my mitt I don’t know if we’d have gotten the guy at first. It was very relieving.”
“Collin is a heck of an athlete and he’s been a great leader for them not only in baseball but in all their sports. Big time kids like that they make big plays at the right moment, and that’s what he did,” said Triton coach Rodney Younis.
“This is the fourth year that we’ve seen him, and honestly, this is probably the best that I’ve seen him pitch in the four years. He was on. As a senior that’s playing for a sectional championship, you’re going to get that.”
While Stevens pitched a six-hit shutout, the Trojans got an equally strong start from Pete Kauffman, who fanned four while surrendering just five hits with no walks lasting six innings before Perkins took over for him in the seventh.
But Culver was able to capitalize in the fourth when Pritz ripped a double all the way to the center field fence, reached third on a Chris Zehner flyout to center and scored on Russell’s single through the gap at short. The Cavs went down in order in the fifth and the score remained a tentative 1-0 until Pritz came around again in the sixth, taking Kauffman deep to left on a 1-0 offering with two out for the insurance run and the eventual final margin.
“Nick has hit the ball hard for us all year. He was hitting .406 coming in with 33 RBIs; that was his fifth home run of the season. He hits it hard pretty much every time he’s up,” said Elliott.
“You couldn’t ask for a better guy at the plate when you need something, and he came through when we needed him. That’s been one of the difference in our streak that we’ve had going — we’ve been getting some of the timely hits.”
Triton, meanwhile, couldn’t quite find the timely hit to break through against Stevens and the Culver defense as the Trojans left nine runners stranded, including eight over the last four frames.
In the top of the fourth, it looked as though Kauffman might help himself out when he reached on a grounder to short with one out and Bryson Mosier moved him over with a line single into left following an infield fly, but Gabe McPherson went down looking to end the inning.
Triton got two on again in the fifth as Landon Kaufman led off with a looping single into right, was moved to second on a Perkins sacrifice bunt and reached third on Grant Stichter’s infield single to bring the top of the order back around with just one out. But Cole Creighbaum flew out to shallow right, and Jayden Hargrave went down swinging to close out another scoreless inning.
It looked like the Trojans would finally break onto the scoreboard in the sixth as Seth Glingle was hit by a pitch and Mosier followed up with a single with one out. Following a McPherson flyout to left, Landon Kaufman coaxed a walk to load the bags, and Perkins put one in play that would have scored Glingle if not for Stevens’ falling catch.
“The last few weeks we’ve been really hitting the ball well. We struggled a little bit yesterday with our bats, and unfortunately it carried over to today,” said Younis. “We had some solid contact, but they made some really good plays. As far as stringing it together, we just couldn’t do that. We’d get a few kids on, but maybe with two outs or at inopportune times.”
Triton closes out the year at 13-15 as the Trojans came up short of the trophy in their third straight finals berth. The team bids goodbye to three seniors in Kauffman, Mosier and Glingle.
“If we want to be in the opportunity to be in this position next year we’ve got to correct these mistakes,” said Younis. “This is the third year in a row we’ve made it here and come up short. It’s going to take a lot of hard work. The kids are hungry, they want it; it’s just going to take more work.”
The Cavs improved to 10-16 while moving on to Saturday’s regional round of the tourney, meanwhile. Their win over Triton represented a reprisal for back-to-back losses to the Trojans in the two teams’ Northern State Conference series just two weeks ago on May 13-14.
But those losses came by narrow margins of 4-2 and 11-8, and Culver never doubted Tuesday.
“With a young team, they really keep their head up so a lot of the stuff that went on during the last two Triton games they kind of shook off,” said Pritz. “We did a great job tonight.”
Indeed, the turnaround against Triton was a microcosm of the Cavs’ turnaround this season. Despite a bumpy 1-12 start to the year, Culver’s young lineup never lost the faith, and the Cavs have since won nine of their last 13 games, a fact that Elliott said makes Tuesday’s sectional title win all the more rewarding.
“What can you say about these kids? We started out 1-12, and now we’ve won 10 games. They’ve turned it around,” he said.
“Six of those losses were by one run or in extra innings. The kids were building some confidence, and now going into regional next week we’ve won our last three one-run games and obviously 2-0 today, so we’ve been winning the close games that we were losing or giving away early in the year.”
At Culver Sectional championship
Culver: 000 101 0 — 2 5 0
Triton: 000 000 0 — 0 6 2
Collin Stevens (W); Pete Kauffman (L), Ben Perkins (7)
2B: Stevens ©, Nick Pritz ©
HR: Pritz ©