PLYMOUTH | After losing in the semistate final to Noblesville, the Lake Central baseball team took a few minutes on the field to talk to each other.
They huddled together, with no parents, no supporters, just the team for the last time.
Coach Jeff Sandor left his team with the words he hopes they'll remember after a 23-11* season that started 6-8.
"I talked to every one of those guys about how much I appreciate them and what they did for our school, what they did for their team," Sandor said. "I'm going to learn more from these 20 guys right here than they're ever going to learn from me and that's what it's all about."
Learning from the players?
"I learned never to quit," Sandor said. "I learned how to be a better leader. I learned how to be a better person."
There were enough times this season that the Indians could have quit.
The 13 losses is the worst season Sandor has coached at Lake Central in five seasons. The semistate berth is only the second time the Indians have reached that point in the same stretch.
When the Indians were 6-8, or 2-6, or 10-9, there were multiple points this team could have folded.
It's easy, with teenagers, to pack up the tent and end the season when the going gets tough.
Instead, the Indians beat Castle, which played in the South Semistate on Saturday. They lost just one game in the second half of the Duneland Athletic Conference schedule.
They avenged losses to LaPorte and Chesterton. They limited errors and gave up fewer multi-run innings.
They hit the ball more, they added more quality at-bats and were only too happy to sacrifice runners.
"(They had to) just stay at it and get the kids to trust the process and realize things get better," Sandor said. "Sometimes when that train gets rolling, it's hard to stop. Early on it seemed like that train didn't want to stop. Once we stopped it we grew, we matured, we showed we could battle adversity."
The Indians fell behind to Hobart near the end of the regular season. In a game that could have imploded and ended what at the time was a five-game winning streak, Lake Central rallied to force extra innings.
Against Hobart again, this time for the regional title, the Indians fell behind by three runs and didn't give up.
Sandor never stopped learning from his players, and any other team that starts a season behind where they'd hoped to be should take these lessons, too.
"I learned to take ownership in mistakes," Sandor said, "all things that are attributes of doing this job and doing it the right way."
*This is a correction from an earlier version of the story. The Times regrets the error.