LAPORTE — Doug Loden had never hit a grand slam during his prep career.
He picked a pivotal moment to eclipse that milestone Saturday in the IHSAA Class 4A LaPorte Regional semifinals against Crown Point.
After a walk, dropped third strike and hit-by-pitch, Loden came to the plate in the top of the second inning with the bases loaded and no outs. The Times No. 3 Indians hadn't even recorded a hit yet, but with one swing Loden changed the momentum of the game.
The junior third baseman homered to right field to give Lake Central a four-run lead, which ultimately propelled his team to a 8-0 victory over the No. 2 Bulldogs. The Indians will take on Mishawaka (24-6), who defeated Northridge in the other semifinal game, in the regional championship.
"I knew it was gone because I could tell by the angle and how fast it came off of my bat, so I was happy about that," said Loden, who registered his third home run of the season. "I was just trying to help my team win. It was a cool experience, especially against (Ryan) Fender. He's a great pitcher."
Crown Point's ace started off strong by retiring the first three batters he encountered on a flyout, groundout and strikeout. But in the bottom of the second, Fender struggled with his control and faced 10 batters before finally being pulled.
After giving up a grand slam to Loden and an RBI single to senior Evan Hand that extended the lead to 5-0, the Murray State commit saw his prep career come to a close. He finished the day with four strikeouts, three hits, two hit-by-pitches and two walks on 50 pitches in 1 2/3 innings.
Bulldogs coach Steve Strayer opted to bring in junior Jonathan Sabotnik from right field as a reliever, and he was able to get Lake Central junior Hunter Zezovski to fly out and end the lopsided inning.
"We talked about how we had to turn this into an ugly game and try to take them out of their game somehow, but I don't know if that had any bearing," Indians coach Mike Swartzentruber said. "(Fender) didn't throw his best. We know that. We've all seen that he's been lights out all year. So we're fortunate that he wasn't (Saturday)."
Entering Crown Point's third match-up with Duneland Athletic Conference foe Lake Central this season, Fender had totaled 30 strikeouts and allowed only five hits through two sectional starts. But during a rare poor performance from the senior, it was the Indians' No. 1 pitcher who came away with the victory.
Junior and Dayton recruit Brock Begesha recorded 11 strikeouts, zero walks and allowed just five hits in his complete game shutout. The Bulldogs threatened in the bottom of the sixth when senior Josh Lindeman and junior Christian Mojica both singled to put two runners on with one out. But Begesha shut the door on any season-saving comeback by striking out Sabotnik and junior Gene Kolarik to close out the inning.
"That's definitely a pressure situation," said Begesha, who at one point struck out four consecutive batters. "You just gotta find your best stuff and buckle down there and dig deep."
With the win all but secured, Zezovski tacked on a few more late-game runs for good measure. In the top of the seventh, the junior hit a three-run homer off of Bulldogs senior Marek Bauner to left field that capped off an upset victory for Lake Central (24-6).
Crown Point (28-5) was ranked as the No. 1 Class 4A team in the state on MaxPreps and No. 2 team according to Prep Baseball Report's final regular-season poll.
"It was a good way to seal the game," said Zezovski, who notched his second home run of the year. "It all starts in the dugout. You can't be flat coming into these games. You gotta be jacked up and mentally prepared."