Big picture: Quick, efficient and packed with drama. The Lake Central baseball team topped Highland with a walk-off single by junior outfielder Sean Sullivan, winning the Class 4A Munster Sectional championship 4-3 on Monday.
The Trojans were led by junior pitcher A.J. Reid, who pitched the entire game and added a double, an RBI and a run scored. Reid’s effort helped the Trojans jump out to a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning when Lake Central senior starting pitcher Zack Dobos was forced to leave the game with an arm injury. Junior Brock Begesha was nearly flawless in relief, shutting down the Highland offense and allowing the Indians to tie the game in the fifth inning and ultimately win in the seventh.
Turning point: An errant pickoff throw, which landed in the field’s spacious foul territory, allowed junior catcher Nolan Zahorsky, who led off the seventh inning with a single, to advance to third. After two intentional walks, a foul out and Highland senior shortstop Mark DeLeon throwing Zahorsky out at home on a close play, Sullivan stepped to the plate with the season on the line. Sullivan fired a ground ball to the outfield, and the celebration started.
Lake Central player of the game: Begesha – In 3.1 innings, Begesha struck out seven, walked one and allowed two hits. Begesha said after the game that he was prepared to pitch multiple extra innings, if not for Sullivan’s late heroics.
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Highland player of the game: DeLeon – Highland coach John Bogner credited DeLeon with having worked tirelessly over the season to adapt to playing shortstop. DeLeon kept the Trojans in it late with his game-saving play in the seventh inning, while going 2-for-3 at the plate with a run scored.
Quote: “He’s carried these kids since they were 8,” Bogner said of Reid. “That’s a lot to put on a high school kid, and he responded. He pitched well enough to win.”
Beyond the box score: Sullivan was one of the day’s heroes, but he almost didn’t get the chance. With Sullivan hitless for the day, Lake Central coach Mike Swartzentruber considered pinch-hitting for the junior. “Then I thought, he’s one of our guys. He’s due. Let him swing.” In the wake of the victory, Swartzentruber said there wasn’t any science or logic to the decision, only a gut feeling. “Sometimes, as a coach, it’s better to be lucky than good," he said.
Up next: Class 4A LaPorte Regional semifinals: Times No. 3 Lake Central (23-6) vs. Times No. 2 Crown Point, 11 a.m Saturday.