VALPARAISO | Max Everaert admitted to being nervous during the biggest game of his high school career, but one swing of the bat seemed to quell the tension for the Kouts freshman.
Batting out of the cleanup spot in the first inning of Monday's baseball sectional title game, Everaert crushed the first pitch of his first at-bat for a three-run home run to left field, helping the Mustangs rout LaCrosse 15-2 in five innings and win the Class A Washington Twp. Sectional title. Kouts will play in the Caston Regional on Saturday.
"It's about time I started hitting," said Everaert, who added a two-run double in the second inning and finished with six RBIs. "I've been in a slump a little bit until late in the season. I knew I had to hit today.
"I was excited when I hit that homer, because that was my first one in a couple of years."
Everaert's performance seemed to open the offensive floodgates for Kouts (15-10), which trickled down the batting order. No. 9 hitter Dan Cullison went 3-for-3 with three runs scored and two RBIs.
"We were up all day," Cullison said. "We had so much energy. We didn't back down at all."
Kouts went ahead 5-1 after two innings before putting up a five-run third, capped by a two-run double from No. 3 hitter Matt Morgart. The Mustangs followed that with a five-run fourth, putting the game out of reach for LaCrosse (15-14).
"We knew if we were patient, waited for strikes and we get ahead, that was going to be the key," Kouts coach Matt Weston said. "I have six seniors who have really stepped up."
Fatigue seemed to set in early for LaCrosse. The Tigers recorded a grueling, 9-8, eight-inning comeback win in the semifinal game that ended just an hour before the championship game started at about 4:30 p.m.
The Tigers had six hits, scoring one run in each the second and fifth innings. Defensively, LaCrosse also committed three errors, while Kouts was mistake-free.
"I don't know how much (being fresher) would have changed it, though," LaCrosse coach Brian McMahan said. "(Kouts) really hit the ball well. At 15-14, I never know what team I'm going to get."