News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports

May 30, 2014

No. 3 Shakamak advances to sectional title game

JASONVILLE — Through the first 31⁄2 innings, Clay City High School’s underdog baseball team was hanging in there against Class A No. 3-ranked Shakamak in the Shakamak Sectional’s first semifinal game Friday evening.

Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth, the Eels committed five errors and two passed balls in such a short period of time that fans could have walked to the concession stand to buy popcorn and soda and returned to their seats without seeing any of the miscues if they didn’t turn around to look at the field.

That defensive breakdown contributed to three more Shakamak runs, then the host Lakers gradually pulled away for a 7-1 victory that advanced them into tonight’s championship game against either White River Valley or Eminence at 7 o’clock.

Clay City pitchers Hunter Wolfe and Austin Stevenson held Shakamak to six hits and struck out 10 batters, but they also issued six walks and Stevenson gave up Kyler Fulford’s solo home run to dead center field in the fifth inning that helped seal the deal.

From the Shakamak perspective, pitchers Braden Scott (five innings), Fulford (one inning) and Braxton Yeryar (one inning) fanned 11 batters. Scott, now 7-0, was tagged for an unearned run in the top of the first after Wolfe doubled with two outs and later came home when a throw from a Seth Barrett grounder skipped away from the first baseman.

Shakamak answered in the bottom of the first with a run of its own, thanks to a Dylan Collins walk, a Sweet single and a two-out infield single by Michael Huddleston that plated Collins.

The Lakers went up 2-1 with another run in the second. With one out, Fulford walked. One out later, he stole second base and scooted up to third when the catcher’s throw sailed into center field. After Collins walked again, an infield single by Sweet enabled Fulford to race home.

After a scoreless third, the disastrous fourth frame caused Clay City supporters to moan and groan. Fulford and Braxton Yeryar led off by reaching on errors. One out later, Sweet’s bunt single brought home Fulford legitimately and Yeryar not so legitimately after two more throwing errors occurred on the same play. Then Sweet touched home on a passed ball.

Fulford’s homer in the fifth and Sweet scoring on an RBI grounder by Brett Yeryar in the sixth put icing on the cake.

“We knew going in that the Wolfe kid throws the ball well for them,” said Chip Sweet, Shakamak’s veteran coach and Luke’s father. “He’s got good velocity and he’s got a good breaking pitch. Sometimes he gets a little bit wild and we were trying to be patient.

“We put some pressure on ’em defensively. We had pretty good execution on a couple bunts. I thought the kids played pretty well.”

Informed about the similar number of strikeouts by each team’s pitching staff, Sweet agreed that part of the game wasn’t the difference in the outcome.

“We just executed better than they did,” he said, “offensively and defensively.”

The elder Sweet also couldn’t help expressing pride in his son’s clutch performance.

“Luke had a huge game,” he admitted. “That suicide-squeeze bunt [in the fourth], I really thought was a big play in the ballgame. There was separation [between the teams] once that happened.”

Looking toward tonight, Chip Sweet knows what must happen for his team to emerge victorious.

“It’s a case of if we come out and play like we’re capable of, we’ll win,” he assessed. “If we get out there and kinda lay an egg and give them a little bit of confidence, we could be in for a battle.”

Although there was no report on which team won the second semifinal game before the Tribune-Star’s news deadline Friday night, Chip Sweet mentioned that Brett Yeryar is likely to be the Lakers’ starting pitcher tonight.

“We might just pitch by committee,” the coach added. “We’ll just see how things go.”

For Clay City, which finished 7-12, coach Kyler Rhodes found plenty of positives from the second half of the season. But the eight errors committed Friday were not among them.

“When you play good teams like Shakamak, those mistakes can cost you,” he told the Tribune-Star. “It’s how they scored most of their runs tonight — on mistakes by us.”

Rhodes stressed that the five defensive miscues in the fourth inning were “not normal” for his team.

“We’ve actually, by the end of the year, started getting a lot better,” he emphasized. “But we had a guy get injured and other guys playing out of spots. We had to bump some guys around. It just didn’t work out as well as we had hoped.

“We’re young, but we got better by the end of the year. That’s kinda what I wanted to see — some growth and improvement. … Hopefully next year, we can kinda carry some momentum over and do some damage.”

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