SOUTH BEND —
Four down and one to go.
The Elkhart Central High School baseball team is one win away from going 5-for-5 on their season goals.
The Blue Blazers scratched out a 2-1 victory over the Lafayette Jefferson Bronchos in the IHSAA Class 4A northern semistate Saturday at Coveleski Stadium.
The Blue Blazers (31-1) will play Indianapolis Cathedral (28-0) next Saturday at 7 p.m. at Victory Field in Indianapolis. Cathedral was a 4-3 winner over Jeffersonville in the southern semistate at Plainfield.
“We had five goals this season and we’ve ticked four of them off,” Central coach Steve Stutsman said. “First was the NIC, then sectional, regional and semistate. The state title is the only one left.”
Two outstanding pitchers in Central senior left-hander Tanner Tully and Jefferson senior right-hander Peter Ripke locked horns in a classic duel. Tully gave up just four hits while striking out 11 and walking three.
“Tanner was just Tanner being Tanner,” Central’s junior catcher Kyle Smith said. “He is so easy to catch.”
Ripke allowed eight hits to go with six strikeouts and one walk. To show his control of things Ripke retired the side in the sixth inning on a mere four pitches.
The game was scoreless until Jefferson tallied an unearned run in the fifth inning when freshman Alex Albrecht and junior Bailey Perdue executed a double steal.
Perdue was on first and he broke for second with Albrecht coming home on the throw to second.
The lead was short lived as the Blue Blazers scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth.
Tully singled with one out. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored the tying run on a double to right center by senior Cory Malcom.
He scored the winning run on a single to right by senior Riley Futterknecht.
“I was sending Malcom all the way,” Stutsman said. “It just turned out that the right fielder bobbled the ball.
“One of the signs of a championship team is taking the lead back right after giving it up. But it’s kind of funny that we hit a lot of hard balls today an d yet the game-winning hit was a soft single.”
Tully wasn’t really worried when he surrendered the run to Jefferson.
“This team has the chance to comeback at any time,” the Ohio State University recruit said.
“My job was to bear down and just keep making the pitches. My curve was working the best today. I probably used it 10 or 12 times.”
Tully’s fastball was clocked at 90 miles per hour several times during the contest.
He seemed to get stronger as the contest went on.
He fanned five of the final seven hitters he faced in throwing the complete game.
“We know every time Tanner is on the mound we are going to get a good outing from him,” Futterknecht said.
“Ripke was throwing a pretty good game. His slider was keeping us off balance.”
About his game-winning hit the DePauw recruit said, “It was a fastball I hit and that is what I was looking for all the way. It doesn’t matter it wasn’t the hardest hit ball it all counts the same.”
Malcom’s double was the only extra base hit of the game.
“He (Ripke) put a fastball right in the zone,” the Arkansas Little Rock recruit said.
Central had more of a scare in the fifth than giving up the initial run of the contest.
Junior catcher Kyle Smith appeared wobbly and went down to the ground in the arms of the home plate umpire and Stutsman who had come out to check on his player.
It was a warm day and Covelski has artificial turf.
“You could see the heat rising off the field,” Smith said.
“I told the umpire about being dizzy and not being able to see anything. The next thing I remember was being on the ground, The trainer said it was dehydration and a lack of water.”
Smith left the game and senior Devin Prater took his place behind the plate.
“Kyle is a great player and it was kind of scary when he went down,” Malcom said. “After that we knew we had to win it for him. I had a little pep talk with the guys in the dugout. I have kind of put myself in the position of being one of the leaders on the team. Tanner is a leader more by example. He is an excellent leader just in a different way.”
Central’s defense did a good job in the spacious confines of the minor league stadium. Senior center fielder Matt Eppers needed all of his speed to rundown a shot off the off the bat of Jefferson senior Keaton Hamilton in the sixth.
“Anything that is close Matt is going to run down,” Stutsman said.
Lafayette Jeff 000 010 0 — 1-4-1
Elkhart Central 000 020 x — 2-8-1
Pitching: (Central) Tanner Tully (W) 11 strikeouts and three walks. (Jeff) Peter Ripke (L) six strikeouts and one walk.
Hitting: (Central) Cory Malcom double, RBI, run; Riley Futterknecht single, RBI; Tanner Tully single, run; Kaleb DeFreese single, Matt Eppers single, Casey Ianigro single, Austin McArt single, Jesse Zepeda single. (Jeff) Griff Clark single.