Culver advances past Westville, 4-3

CULVER — Culver Community’s battery supplied ample power during the Cavs’ Class A Sectional 51 baseball opener Thursday.
Junior right-handed pitcher Kyle Vlach turned in a solid complete-game effort and senior catcher Sam Hissong gunned down the potential game-tying run trying to steal second in the bottom of the seventh as the host Cavs eliminated Westville 4-3.
Culver advances to Monday’s 12:30 p.m. semifinal against the winner of today’s matchup between Triton and Marquette Catholic. OD faces South Central Monday at 10 a.m. in the other semifinal.
“We started the season 0-12 and now we’ve won eight of our last 12 games,” Culver head coach Mike Elliott said. “Our kids are building a little confidence. We were leading in a lot of those losses; the neat thing today is we came back from giving up the lead and took the lead again right away. Our kids didn’t hang their heads.”
After missing time recently with a back injury, Vlach returned against Westville giving up three runs — two earned — scattering seven hits, and perhaps most importantly, issuing just one free pass. He also fanned seven, including Westville’s 21st out of the game. Routinely working ahead in the count, Vlach changed speeds and mixed in sharp curveballs to keep the Blackhawks off balance.
“For Kyle to throw a complete game was just huge,” Elliott said. “He was able to fight through a couple spots. We’re at our strongest when Kyle’s on the mound.
“Kyle had very good command of his pitches,” he added. “He was able to hit his corners. He doesn’t throw all that hard, but when he commands his offspeed pitches like he did today it makes his fastball look a lot faster. He did a tremendous job with his control. When you throw seven innings and only walk one batter you’ve pitched a pretty good game.”
After Westville knotted the score at 2-all with a two-run third frame, abetted by a trio of Culver throwing errors, Vlach rolled through the next three innings.
However, the Blackhawks rallied in the seventh. Jackson Newenhouse grounded a leadoff single to left, moved to second on a balk, and scored on Brian Popp’s one-out single. With Popp on the move three pitches later, Hissong fired a strike to second baseman Jordan Sanders for the second out.
“That was absolutely huge,” Elliott said of the caught stealing. “Sam’s a senior, but this is his first year catching, other than a game here or there. At the beginning of the season we struggled defensively. We had Collin Stevens, our best player, behind the plate and that left us weak at shortstop. We decided we’ve got to make a change, and Sam’s done an absolutely wonderful job catching.”
Hissong’s play loomed even larger when Austin Hirsick reached base on a two-out two-base throwing error right before Vlach ended the threat and the game with his final K.
Offensively, the Cavs scratched out just four hits — two from senior Nick Zehner — but cashed in on five Westville errors, and stole second base six times, half of which turned into Culver runs.
“We usually like to sacrifice bunt, and we tried in the first inning and didn’t get it down,” Elliott said. “With the wind blowing against the catcher, we pulled the kids together to start the second inning and said we were going to change our philosophy and try to steal; getting runners from first to second worked very well.”
Culver snagged the lead for good in the fourth inning. Zehner smacked a leadoff double to left and later scored on a throwing error.
In the fifth, Vlach reached on a one-out error, swiped second, and scored on senior Randy Cline’s single to shallow left.
The Cavs grabbed a 2-0 edge in the third. Stevens reached on an error, stole second and advanced to third on an error before scoring on Vlach’s RBI groundout to short. With two outs, Cline was hit by a pitch, stole second, and crossed the plate on Nick Pritz’s single through the left side.
For the Blackhawks, Popp and Matt Beard collected two hits apiece.
At Culver
Culver: 002 110 0 – 4 4 4
Westville: 002 000 1 – 3 7 5
Kyle Vlach (W) and Sam Hissong; Matt Beard (L), Brian Popp and Hipp Pacheco
2B: Nick Zehner (C), Austin Hisick (W).
Records: Culver 8-18, Westville 9-15 (final)