HIGHLAND | Like the many cratered highways in Northwest Indiana this spring, Munster’s road to a repeat sectional championship was not smooth.
Potholes of mistakes, bent rims of frustration and broken axles of lost confidence were in play every day during the commute.
It was a bumpy regular season, unpaved sectional tournament and rocky sectional championship game. With the destination nearing, however, these Mustangs turned out to be excellent drivers.
Trying to complete a season sweep of Lowell, Munster survived a huge comeback by the Red Devils and staved off a final rally in the top of the seventh to hang on for a 6-5 win in the championship game of the Class 4A Highland Sectional on Friday night.
“The way this season started, it would have been very easy for this team to fold up and give in,” Munster coach Beth Thornburg said. “I told them to keep fighting and playing, and it will come around.”
The repeat-champion Mustangs (20-10), who earned the program’s seventh title overall, host Crown Point in Tuesday’s regional.
One symbol of Munster’s resiliency is pitcher Cathy Lebryk, who played junior varsity as a freshman and a sophomore, and rode the varsity bench as a junior, appearing in just eight games. The senior lefty was not dominant and struck out just three, but she earned a gritty complete-game win in a sectional final, which most pitchers can’t say.
“It’s actually really rewarding to win this,” Lebryk said. “It was better to get the kinks out before (sectionals) because these are the games that count. It was nice to come through.”
It wasn’t easy, as the Mustangs scored three times in the top of the first, only to be overtaken by a four-run second-inning barrage by the Red Devils (22-7).
Three errors by Lowell and two hits by the Mustangs helped Munster retake the lead for good with three runs in the bottom of the fifth. With two on and two out in that frame, Munster catcher Gina Rice grounded to third and beat out an errant throw to first. In the meantime, Paige Kwasigroch scored the tying run and, on an attempt to get Rice out at second, Sadie Conner scored the go-ahead run, beating a throw home. Rice scored on Teagan Murphy’s base hit a few pitches after the play.
Lowell, which committed five errors, had taken a 4-3 lead on starting pitcher Brooke Cummins’ two-run single, which followed RBI singles by Caitlyn Walter and Jessica Shope.
“Today we helped them out a bit, but, in turn, they helped us out a little bit, too,” Thornburg said. “Being aggressive on the bases probably won us this game.”
A Munster error allowed Lowell to score one run in the seventh, but the Red Devils’ rally fell short with a fielder’s choice and a pop fly to end the game.
“It wasn’t about hitting or pitching; it was about who was going to play defense, and we didn’t,” Lowell coach Pete Iussig said. “It wasn’t a stellar game for us defensively. And it’s been like that for us.”