Indians down Eagles at Plymouth final

PLYMOUTH — Culver Military’s lineup has been finding ways to hit its way out of trouble all season long. After a 12-inning marathon win over Jimtown in the Plymouth Sectional semifinal Tuesday night, the hits finally dried up In Wednesday’s championship game.
St. Joe jumped out to a fast start with four runs in the top of the first, and CMA managed just four total hits against the Indians pitching staff of Connor Sweeney and Brad Hartman in an eventual 9-2 loss at Bill Nixon Field.
“It was a tough day at the plate, and that’s tough because we have been hitting the ball so well this season,” said CMA head coach Kurt Christiansen. “It’s part of the game, I suppose, but four hits isn’t just going to cut it, right? That’s kind of the story there. Our kids worked really hard at the plate and they worked really hard on the mound, but we can’t scatter 14 hits and only scratch across four hits. I think we only hit the ball hard three times all night; that’s not going to get it done in a sectional game, let alone in a sectional championship.”
The championship loss came on the heels of a 15-hit performance against Jimtown in 12 innings Tuesday capped off by a Trent Kolden walk-off homer. But after that emotional win, the Eagles couldn’t find the same magic at the plate Wednesday.
CMA got two of its four hits in the third, including a solo shot to right by leadoff hitter Kyle Bartelman that cut the Eagles’ deficit to 4-2. After struggling with his command early, Sweeney finally settled in some in the fourth, leaving the game with a 7-2 lead in the sixth after surrendering four hits with four walks and a hit batter versus two strikeouts. Hartman slammed the door shut in relief, facing the minimum number of batters over the next one and two-thirds innings to earn the save.
“It was tough for Connor Sweeney,” said St. Joe coach John Gumpf. “He hasn’t pitched in about three weeks. It’s been really hard for him. He’s a senior leader, and that’s who we wanted on the mound. Hopefully, his arm feels fine. He had a little trouble with his control early, but that’s going to happen when you haven’t thrown in a while.”
“It was rough. I didn’t have my stuff,” echoed Sweeney. “I just let them hit it, and our defense played great. I didn’t have my form. Everything was high. I’m happy my team came through for me. They got a lot of hits and picked me up.”
The Indians wasted little time giving Sweeney the run support he needed, jumping on top with a four-run first on the strength of six hits and a walk.
Hartman, Pat Korman, Tyler Beck and Neal Dowling opened Wednesday’s final with four straight singles against CMA starter Shane Comiskey — coming off the win Tuesday night replacing Zach Moffett in the 12th — with Dowling’s infield single driving in Hartman to start the scoring. Matt Potter’s fielder’s choice ball to short plated Korman, and Beck scored a heads-up run on the relay throw from CMA second baseman Colin Dean to first as he tried to turn two on the Potter grounder. But Potter beat out the throw, Tom Mackey’s looping single into left moved him into scoring position, and he scored on designated hitter Dylan Scott’s line single to right to put St. Joe up 4-0.
Wes Short drew a walk to load the bases, but Comiskey induced a flyout from Hartman as the top of the order came back around to stop the bleeding at four runs.
“Our kids came out aggressive,” said Gumpf. “That’s what we talk about. It’s tough when you’re the visitors. That’s how you set the tone. We know this Culver team can come back. They proved that last night. They proved it the time before when they went eight innings against Marian. That’s a great ball club with a lot of tough players. A four-run lead in the first inning makes it a little more comfortable.”
The Eagles got off to a slower start at the plate but were able to capitalize on Sweeney’s wild start as he walked Bartelman, hit Kolden with a pitch and walked Perley Provost to load the bases with none out. Bartelman scored when Colin Dean grounded into a double play at short, but Anthony McHugh grounded out to short to end the inning with CMA still trailing 4-1.
After scoring his team’s only run of the first after what looked like the start of a big inning for CMA, Bartelman plated the Eagles’ only other run of the night in his second plate appearance in the third, taking Sweeney’s first offering deep to right to cut Culver’s deficit to 4-2. Dean singled and McHugh doubled him over to second with two out, but both were left stranded when Colin Raver grounded out to short, and the Eagles never got any closer.
St. Joe scratched out a run on a Scott RBI double against CMA reliever Drew Schroeder in the fifth, then pushed across two more in the sixth and seventh innings to bring the score to its final margin.
“I think that was a big moment, a pivotal moment. At 4-2 it’s still a ball game,” said Christiansen of Bartelman’s homer. “Kyle’s done a good job for us all year. He likes to jump on pitches early in counts and he got a fastball where he likes to hit it and put a good swing on it. At 4-2 we’re right in the game, but our at-bats and work at the plate just didn’t come through.
“They broke it open a little bit late, but at 4-2 our at-bats needed to be a little bit better. We just didn’t hit the ball very hard. Too many easy outs.”
It was a tough note to end on for the Eagles, who had won a pair of extra-inning thrillers at Plymouth headed into Wednesday’s final — an eight-inning win over Mishawaka Marian on a walk-off balk last Friday and a 12th-inning walk-off homer by Kolden against Jimtown Tuesday — but ultimately fell short of the program’s first sectional crown since a run of four straight titles between 1993-97 for CMA’s only four sectional championships to date.
“It was a nice tournament run,” said Christiansen. “It’s a testament to these kids. This is a group of kids that’s pretty special. There’s a lot of talent there, and they believe in one another and they believe they can win every single time they step on the field. And I think that carried over into some competitive games where we put ourselves in a good position and had an opportunity to compete and win, and they stuck together and got it done both against Marian and against Jimtown.”
While St. Joe moves to 17-7 and advances to play Western in the Plymouth Regional opener Saturday at 11 a.m., CMA closes the year at 14-7. The team bids farewell to six seniors in four-year standout Bartelman — who will play ball for Columbia next season — three-year standout hitter Kolden and three-year infield anchor McHugh, as well as utility player Schroeder, Daniel Billett and Gino Pintore.
“It was a nice season, and this group will be missed. There are a lot of veteran innings that we’re going to lose,” Christiansen said.
“It’s a really good senior class. I think one of the best things I can say about the program and that group of seniors is that they’ve put us in a position where we expect to win. They’ve taught the younger classmates how we do things, the way we approach our work and I think that legacy will be really important for us going forward.”
• SOUTH BEND ST. JOSEPH 9,
CULVER MILITARY 2
At Class 3A Plymouth Sectional
St. Joe: 400 012 2 — 9 14 0
CMA: 101 000 0 — 2 4 2
Connor Sweeney (W), Brad Hartman (6, Sv), Shane Comiskey (L, 5-2), Drew Schroeder (5).
2B: Dylan Scott (SJ), Anthony McHugh (CMA).
HR: Kyle Bartelman (CMA).
Records: St. Joe 17-7, CMA 14-7 (final).