By Nick Goralczyk
MIDDLEBURY – The magic was simply gone. After Saturday’s thrilling walk-off victory over Northridge, the Warsaw baseball team needed just a little more gusto to claim its first sectional title since 2010.
Elkhart had other plans.
The Lions were tremendous on the diamond, scoring seven runs on just five hits to help secure a 7-1 victory Monday in the championship game of the Class 4-A Northridge Baseball Sectional.
“I think (Elkhart) did the right things,” said Warsaw skipper Andy Manes. “They responded well after that run we put up in the first inning, they put up four.
“It’s kind of been our Achilles Heel at some points this season, we can’t get out of our own way. Dropping fly balls, not seeing fly balls, just not fully executing. We have largely got past that but that kind of crept back today.”
The Tigers committed four errors in the contest, which directly contributed to five of Elkhart’s seven runs. It was a disappointing exit for Warsaw, especially after an exhilarating start from the visiting team on the scoreboard.
Alex Light was hit by the very first pitch of the game and would be brought around to score thanks to an RBI single from Drew McCleary. Light was put into scoring position by a well-executed sacrifice bunt from Lukas Maier.
Light slid across home, popped up, clearly excited, sending the Warsaw dugout into a frenzy. Things just never reached that level again for the Tigers.
Elkhart responded in the bottom of the first by plating four runs, aided by two hit batters and an error. That was all the Lions needed as Warsaw’s bats never got going and would go three up, three down the next three innings at the plate.
Elkhart’s Vinny Ambrose had two hits and scored two runs. Graham Eli, Garrett Ganczak and Sam Russo all had one hit a piece for the Lions with Eli and Ganczak recording the only RBI for Elkhart.
McCleary, Maier and Sam Justice each tallied a hit while Jette Woodward led the team with two hits.
Drew Pressler went the distance for the Lions, earning the win on the mound and fanning seven Tiger batters. Aaron Greene took the loss for Warsaw, pitching four innings. Light recorded a strikeout in less than an inning of relief work for Warsaw while Justice was perfect during his one and one-third innings of work.
The loss was hard for all the obvious reasons, but even harder when factoring in the group of seniors that Manes and his staff are sending off.
“Those seniors have put in hours and hours and hours of work,” Manes began to explain. “They were coming, getting us saying, ‘Hey, coach, can you unlock the gates out at the high school?’ a hundred times. They loved the game and they wanted to get better and it showed. It has definitely showed.”
The Tigers close their season at 14-14 but will have plenty of momentum to build on in the coming offseason.
“We’ve got some talent coming and we told the guys, this is our expectation now,” Manes stated, looking at the future. “For the last 10 or 12 years it has not happened this way, and for us to get to at least get to a sectional final game is some sort of progress. This should be our expectation going forward.”
Elkhart moves on to the LaPorte regional where it will play South Bend Adams. The sectional title is the first for the city of Elkhart since Central’s 2013 state title. It is the first for a consolidated Elkhart school since 1972, the last season before the two schools split into Memorial and Central.