PORTAGE | It was a break-up of sorts, a reminder that not all endings are happy.
As the all-stars from Bedford, a town outside of Bloomington, celebrated their 12-0, six-inning state championship victory Monday night at the Portage Little League complex, cameras flashed and players smiled.
Across the diamond the Valparaiso Americans Junior League (13-14) all-star team wondered aloud if there was any award for being state runner-up.
Alas, the memories and friendships will have to be enough.
“We’ll all grow up and be nice men — doctors and lawyers — and we’ll all play baseball again,” Valpo reserve outfielder Freddy Meccia said.
Valparaiso went 8-0 in postseason games that weren’t against Bedford, but a strong start and dominant pitching from Bedford’s Drew Hensley stifled Valpo and sent the victors on to this Saturday’s Ohio Valley Regional in Fort Wayne.
Valpo needed to win twice Monday to earn a regional berth, but a 6-0 deficit after two innings did not bode well for the last remaining local team in the age group.
Bedford had sent Valpo to the loser’s bracket over the weekend with an 18-3 win.
“We knew they would hit us; we just had to minimize the runs,” Valpo manager Tony Klobucar said. “We knew it would be tough, and offensively we couldn’t get anything going.”
An error to start the game opened up a three-hit, three-run first. A big double by Hensley, who was 2-for-3 with three runs scored, keyed a three-run second.
“They hit it in all the places we weren’t at,” Valparaiso starting pitcher Jake Sherman said. “I was trying to throw junk and keep the ball down, and they were still hitting it in the gaps.”
Sherman settled down and avoided trouble through the third and fourth, and his only other allowed run was the result of a stolen base attempt that prompted a cavalcade of overthrows in the fifth.
“I just started trying to throw harder, and I got them to pop out,” Sherman said.
Headed to Andrean next month, Sherman threw 97 pitches and worked through five innings with just four earned runs. A spotty relief effort allowed Bedford to score five runs with the benefit of just one hit in the sixth inning and end its state title run one inning early.
Sherman had one of the three Valparaiso hits, as Hensley threw a complete game with 11 strikeouts in six innings.
Eric Klobucar had the other two hits, both singles, and was 2-for-2 in the game.
“He threw really hard, and it was hard to get up on him,” Sherman said of Hensley. “It was hard to hit anything high over anyone’s heads.”
The majority of this season’s team was 14 and will now head to multiple high schools with no certain plans for a reunion next summer.
“Last year we went to state and won one game; this year we only lost to the state champ,” Tony Klobucar said. “These kids have nothing to be ashamed of. It was a tough loss, but I’m proud of the kids for making it this far.”