ELKHART – Warsaw baseball coach Mike Hepler had a simple goal for his team going into postseason play Saturday.
The veteran Tiger skipper just wanted his team to go out and compete and give their best effort.
He certainly got his wish in that regard.
Warsaw, despite a gutty effort, saw a tough season end on a tough note with a 4-3 loss in 10 innings to Elkhart Central.
An RBI single off the bat of sophomore Jared Miller in the home half of the 10th frame sidelined the Tigers in an opening-round game of the Class 4-A Elkhart Memorial Sectional.
The game was originally scheduled for Thursday night, but rain forced it to be pushed back two days to Saturday afternoon.
Central, which dropped a 9-8 decision to the Tigers in Warsaw last Monday, advance to play Elkhart Memorial in a semifinal game Saturday. Defending sectional champion Penn was slated to face Goshen Saturday in the first semifinal following the Warsaw-Central contest with Central then playing Memorial in the second semifinal game.
The championship game is set for 11 a.m. Monday at Memorial.
The Blue Blazers improve to 16-11, while Warsaw ends its season at 8-20.
“It’s a tough loss, but I’m so proud of these guys today,” said Hepler. “They battled and they hung in there. I think battled is the best word to use today. They just played gritty, tough baseball today.
“We had a rough season, but I’m so proud of the effort they gave today. We came in here with nothing to lose. I just wanted them to compete and control what we could control. They went out there and played very well today, like they are capable of.”
Leadoff hitter Miller’s hit down the third-base line plated Derek Deal, who had doubled to start the 10th inning. Deal’s double was followed by a walk to Jake Dempsey and then a sacrifice bunt by No. 9 hitter Tayler Holtzinger, where the low throw to third was not in time to get the speedy Deal.
The Tigers showed their mental toughness after going down 3-1 after a three-run blast off the bat of senior Andrew Salmon in the third inning for Central.
Warsaw got huge back-to-back doubles by Alex Miller and Braxton Tennant to start the sixth frame to make it 3-2. A sacrifice fly from Luke Baker drove home pinch runner Ian Glogovsky to tie the game.
The Tigers had taken a 1-0 lead off hard-throwing Central ace Salmon in the second on a dropped third strike.
Central had a golden chance to win the game in their at-bat in the seventh. Ross Kirkton opened the frame with a single and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Deal and to third on a wild pitch. He was then easily thrown out on a chopper to third that Tiger third baseman Liam Patton made the play on.
“We got out of some jams, unfortunately not one at the end,” noted Hepler. “Salmon was good out there for them. He’s very competitive. And to his credit he hit it well on that three-run homer for them.”
Warsaw starter Jordan Jones went the first five innings and then Tennant pitched the rest of the way. Neither had pitched last Monday when Warsaw used six different pitchers and Central four in their regular-season meeting.
“I thought that both Jordan and Braxton pitched well today,” Hepler said. “We also played well defensively and made the plays we needed to.
“It was just a crazy start to the sectional with the rainouts. It felt like we played two today. It always seems like when we play Central in the sectional, they are close games. I still remember back in 2001 when we went 17 innings with them.”
Salmon pitched until the eighth inning and offensive hero Miller then went the final three frames for Central. Salmon, who plays a variety of positions for the Blue Blazers, had pitched just one inning in the loss to the Tigers last Monday. He had missed the prior three games due to a hamstring injury.
Warsaw loses seven seniors in Tennant, Jones, Bryce Sensibaugh, Collin Marshall, Alex Miller, Jordan Steffensmeier and Luke Baker. All of them were in the startling lineup on Saturday.