Terre Haute South’s bid for a sixth consecutive high school baseball sectional championship took a scary turn Monday afternoon.
But after right fielder Colton Rupska of the Braves was removed from the field in an ambulance on a backboard in the top of the sixth inning, his team weathered a Martinsville threat and hung on for a 4-2 win. South played Northview, a 5-4 winner over Terre Haute North in Monday morning’s game, for the championship later in the day.
The score was already 4-2 entering the sixth inning when Rupska lunged trying to haul in an opposite-field drive by Martinsville’s Ben Elliott. The ball got over Rupska’s head and he apparently landed on his back as Elliott wound up with a double. The way the ball was bouncing in that area of the field Monday, it probably wasn’t much different for Rupska than landing on concrete.
“[Rupska's] back was hurting him in batting practice this morning,” coach Kyle Kraemer of the Braves said after the game. “He landed on his back ... but [being taken to a hospital] was more precautionary than anything.”
The Braves hadn’t been threatened much by the Artesians to that point – both Martinsville runs were unearned, and Cody Brock allowed just five hits – but a walk following Elliott’s double had the tying runs on base.
South closer Pete Lannoo entered the game at that point, however, and did his job. He struck out the first batter he faced, who was trying to bunt the runners into scoring position, and then fielded a slow roller and started an inning-ending double play. Lannoo’s throw to second could have been better, but shortstop Jacob Johnson was able to keep his foot on the bag – at least that’s what the umpire said – and make the relay.
“I think I had my toe cleat on [the bag],” Johnson said sincerely afterward. “We wanted to win for [Rupska].”
“Their inability to get the bunt down hurt [the Artesians],” Kraemer said, “and that double play was huge.”
South had taken a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when Johnson led off with a single – nearly decapitating Martinsville pitcher Mason Kutruff – and came around on a sacrifice, an error and Preston Tofaute’s fielder’s choice. Two South errors allowed Martinsville to tie the game immediately in the top of the second, however.
Brock and Spencer Whitlock singled to open the bottom of the second and were bunted to second and third by Brandon Joyner. Warren Rollings got the go-ahead RBI on another grounder, but an error kept the inning alive for Daniel Marlow to get a two-run triple thanks to an ill-advised dive by the Martinsville outfielder.
Needless to say, play hadn’t been flawless behind either Kutruff or Brock – the run that scored on Rollins’ grounder was the only earned one in the game – and Martinsville cut the lead to 4-2 in the top of the fourth on a double by David Elkins and a South throwing error.
“We knew [Martinsville] had improved tremendously offensively and we would have to make plays. We didn’t,” Kraemer said later. “We didn’t play very good defense ... that led directly to the two runs.”
Coach Scott McDonald of Northview had similar thoughts after the first game, but like the Braves the Knights were able to survive.
North had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the second on a triple by Tony Rosselli and a sacrifice fly by Colton Pittman, then added a second run in the third on an RBI single by Nick Long. Adler Ingalsbe, who had pitched brilliantly on Wednesday in a first-round win over Plainfield, escaped a first-inning jam but was threatening to take command.
The bottom of the Northview batting order, which hadn’t been effective on Wednesday against Mooresville, started to make the difference in the bottom of the third, however. Devin Clark led off with a triple, scored on a double by Tanner Glenn, and a walk to T.J. Decker and a bunt single by Craig Peters loaded the bases.
Ingalsbe got one huge out, but Connor Pierce delivered a two-run single and Bryant Pestoff added a two-out RBI hit to give the Knights a sudden 4-2 lead.
North had a runner caught stealing to end its third inning, and had another thrown out at home on a relay from Tyler Wilson to Peters to Glenn to end the fourth. But with two out in the top of the fifth, Zach Milam beat out an infield hit, Long doubled and Cody Gardner delived a two-run single – on which he continued to third on an error.
Decker, who also had pitched very well in the first round of sectional play, got out of that inning with the score still tied and pitched around Nickohli Kimmel’s two-out double in the sixth. And the bottom of the Northview order delivered the winning run in the sixth, although without hitting the ball too hard – a leadoff infield hit by Connor Ganly, a sacrifice, back-to-back walks and a fielder’s-choice grounder by Peters.
“We spent a lot of time this week working on trying to drive the ball the other way, and it worked out well,” McDonald said after the game. “The bottom of the order got that four-run inning started ... the effort was great for us, and it was a real gutty performance by T.J.”
“I thought our kids played hard and played well,” said Shawn Turner of the Patriots. “We gave up too many baserunners, but that’s on me.
“It was a good season,” Turner continued. “We knew going in we didn’t have quite the pitching or the experience you want, but we really played hard ... and those pitchers, against the teams we have to play, did a lot better than we expected. Give the credit to T.J. Decker today; he did a nice job.”
“We didn’t play very good defense,” McDonald concluded, “but we still got away with one.”
Terre Haute South’s bid for a sixth consecutive high school baseball sectional championship took a scary turn Monday afternoon.
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