Varsity Baseball | June 5, 2020

Lake Central baseball loses chance at special season due to coronavirus pandemic

Story By: James Boyd – nwitimes.com

The pieces were in place for Lake Central to have a special season, and Brock Begesha was ready to lead the way.

The senior and Dayton commit was arguably the top returning pitcher in the Region this spring, and he spearheaded a loaded Indians squad that was looking to go on a memorable run.

All of the team’s players had worked diligently throughout the offseason in hopes of winning their fourth consecutive Class 4A sectional title and potentially going much further.

“I’d say we had an extremely realistic chance this year,” Begesha said of Lake Central playing for a state championship at Victory Field. “We felt like we had three legit aces in Carter Doorn, Alex James and myself. We had a good offense and a lot of guys coming back from last season.”

With the addition of Doorn — a standout junior and Purdue commit who transferred from Illiana Christian to Lake Central — the Indians were ranked as the No. 2 Class 4A team in the state in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association preseason poll.

Their chance to live up to that high mark never came.

Indiana schools were officially shut down April 2 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and roughly one hour later the IHSAA canceled all spring sports for the remainder of the school year. Begesha wasn’t shocked by the news and had prepared himself for that unfortunate outcome, but his anticipation still didn’t make it hurt any less.

Lake Central’s last day of school before transitioning to e-learning was March 13, three days before baseball tryouts were set to begin. When Begesha left the school that afternoon, he knew then that his prep baseball career was all but over.

“When we got sent home in mid-March, we all kind of thought, ‘We might not ever get to play together again,'” Begesha said. “But once it became official, it really hit home. It was just kind of unbelievable, you know?”

Last season, Begesha had an incredible junior campaign and was nearly unhittable whenever he was called upon. He registered 67 strikeouts and a 0.71 ERA in 49 1/3 innings pitched. The Dayton signee also went a perfect 7-0 on the mound and recorded four saves.

Indians coach Mike Swartzentruber praised Begesha for performing his best when his team needed it the most, and a strong example of that was Begesha’s outing last year in a Class 4A regional semifinal against Crown Point. After losing in the regional semifinals in 2017 and 2018, Begesha helped Lake Central advance to the regional championship by pitching a five-hit shutout against the Bulldogs, highlighted by 11 strikeouts and zero walks.

“If I have to win one game with my life on the line, he’s the guy I would want pitching,” Swartzentruber said. “He’s as good a big-game pitcher as anybody I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach. He’s competitive. He’s confident. He’s talented.”

Begesha said he appreciates his coach’s compliments, but he passed them right along to his teammates, including fellow seniors Nolan Zahorsky and Doug Loden.

Zahorsky established himself as one of the top utility players in the Region last year and was named to the All-Duneland Athletic Conference Team. He batted .473 with 53 hits, 15 RBIs, 42 runs scored and 43 stolen bases. Zahorsky was a vital part of the Indians’ 8-0 win over Crown Point in the regional semifinals, recording three hits, two runs scored and two stolen bases.

However, Loden was the hero of the game.

In the top of the second inning, Loden hit the only grand slam of his prep career to get Lake Central on the board. It was undoubtedly the most memorable hit Loden ever had in high school, but the momentum the Indians gained from his third home run of the season did not carry over into the regional final, where they were shutout in a 2-0 loss to Mishawaka.

“I was really proud of myself in that moment. It helped us win the game and move on,” Loden said. “I just wish that we could have won the championship and kept moving on, but that was it. That’s baseball, anything can happen.”

Without another chance to return to the regional final and maybe reach Indianapolis, Loden added that the COVID-19 outbreak left him with a lot of questions that can never be answered.

“Of course there will be ‘What if’s,'” said Loden, who is leaning toward continuing his career at Joliet Junior College in Illinois. “What if we didn’t win the state championship? What if we did? What if we went undefeated? What if we were the best LC baseball team ever?”

Even years down the line, Swartzentruber said he’ll also wonder about what could have happened during the 2020 campaign. But despite not being able to compete, he commended all of his graduating players for displaying high character in the face of an unprecedented form of adversity.

As a way to say goodbye, the Indians’ 11 seniors posted videos to Twitter reflecting on their time in the program. Swartzentruber, who is in his fourth year at the helm, also offered up his perspective on his first graduating class.

“I mentioned this to the seniors when I did my little video to them, and the thing I’ll miss the most is being around them every day at practice,” Swartzentruber said. “We had a very loose bunch of kids, who knew what our goals were, knew what our expectations were, and when it was time to get after it, they really got after it.”

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