2024, Varsity Baseball | June 8, 2024

Weight lifted as Lake Central punches ticket to state

nwitimes – David P. Funk

LAFAYETTE — It’s a relief.

For Lake Central, coach Mike Swartzentruber and the Indians’ class of 2024, Saturday night’s 6-1 semistate championship win over Homestead is a weight lifted.

LC was a game away last spring. It lost a heartbreaker to Penn in the regional final the year before. Swartzentruber took North Posey to three state title games in the 2000s, winning twice, but hasn’t been back since.

Everybody can now exhale.

“I thought I was a little better than I was, as a coach. My next job (after North Posey) humbled me. We weren’t very good for seven years. Lake Central revived my career,” he said. “We’ve had heartbreak after heartbreak in the state tournament. We have a group of guys that didn’t have a lot of fanfare. I’ve told them many times ‘When you break down our 22 individual parts this isn’t nearly the most talented team I’ve coached but when you bond the 22 together, we’re pretty good.’”

Indians senior starting pitcher Blake Sivak threw like an ace, going the distance while striking out nine, walking none and allowing three hits.

“We’ve had some heartbreak the last few years and to finally make it to state is so unreal,” Sivak said. “I’m so exhausted. I’m glad I could put my full effort into this team and get us to state.”

Spartans starter Alex Graber, a Northern Illinois commit, was perfect in his first time through the LC order. The Indians (25-9) didn’t get to him until the fourth and didn’t do serious damage until the third time through the order in the sixth.

Lake Central first broke through in the fourth when Nick Robinson became the game’s first base runner with a walk. Quinn O’Bryan bunted him to second and then Griffin Tobias grounded out to third base. Robinson took third on the play and scored when Homestead first baseman Brady Minnick’s throw to try to get him bounced into left field.

Robinson’s speed was again a factor when he walked in the sixth, reached second on O’Bryan’s single, stole third and then scored on Griffin Tobias’s single.

“All season long, coach has talked about guys stepping up and making plays,” Robinson said. “Coach puts a lot of pressure on all of us to go fight for 90 feet and be aggressive on the bases.”

Lake Central’s biggest blow came two batters after Tobias, when Ryder Fernandez doubled in two more.

Homestead (20-11) finally scored in the seventh on a Minnick RBI single.

“It feels good to finally punch though, to knock the door down and punch our ticket to state,” Robinson said. “Coach works very hard to make sure we’re ready to play. He takes practice as seriously as each game. It feels good to do this for him. We’re glad that we can go and win for him.”

Sivak and Graber dueled early.

Sivak was perfect through three and didn’t allow a base runner until Homestead designated hitter Cole Kintz tallied the game’s first hit in the fourth. Kintz poked a triple into the gap between center and right fields. Sivak was able to get the next hitter to ground out to end the threat, though.

“I think this was probably the best I’ve ever felt before a game. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline, but I felt great going out there,” Sivak said. “To (win state) for this town, after the past few years, with all the heartbreak, it’s been on everyone’s mind for the past three years. To bring back a state title would make it all worth it.”

Lake Central will play Mooresville in the state title game. The Pioneers beat Avon 7-2 in the southern semistate.

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