MORGAN TOWNSHIP — Somewhere, Matt Bush is smiling.
On the day the former Purdue Northwest and Morgan Township basketball coach was laid to rest, Connor Malmquist's two-out walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh lifted the Cherokees to a thrilling 7-6 Porter County Conference victory over South Central. On top of that, Bush's nephew, Tyler, a pall bearer at the funeral Friday, was the winning pitcher.
"It means the world to me," Tyler Bush said. "He was my athletics role model. His coaching style, I definitely have it in my head when I pitch, being tough. He was there with me all the way. He was probably like, come on, why did you walk that guy? It was definitely hard, but I definitely knew I had to pitch well in his honor. It's a good tribute to him."
Bush (2-0), who pitched a five-inning no-hitter Monday, the day after Matt's death, told coach Cory Mack he was good to go if needed and Mack called upon him in the fifth inning of a 6-6 game. Preferential to starting over relieving, Bush promptly issued two walks to load the bases, but struck out the next two batters to strand three runners.
"I'm really proud of him," Mack said. "His uncle is such a huge name at Morgan Township. When 'TB' tells me he's good to go, he's usually good to go. If you let him work through it, he's going to come around. He settled in."
South Central almost stole the go-ahead run, literally, in the top of the seventh when Griffin Krieger walked, swiped second and third and then tried to take home, only to be ruled out on a close play.
"It surprised me, but I noticed something was out of place," Bush said. "I shortened my leg kick like I do when there's a fast runner on first."
Satellites coach Ryan Kruszka argued the call at the moment, but declined to address it afterward.
"Griffin did his best to put us in a position to win the game," Kruszka said. "He was trying to make a baseball play and it didn't work out."
In the bottom half, Colin Mack walked with one out and stole second and third, the eighth and ninth bags of the game for Morgan (5-0). With two outs, Malmquist laced a 1-2 pitch into right for his third hit and third RBI of the day.
"The only thing was I was thinking was I wanted to get up to bat," Malmquist said. "I was definitely confident through out the day. I hit it hard most of the day. I was ready. It feels really good. Mr. Bush is still in everybody's thoughts and prayers and for Tyler to have that and still come in at crunch time, buckle down and pitch well, that's all you can ask for."
Malmquist also knocked in two in a five-run Cherokees first inning, when it looked like Kyle Schmack's stint on the mound would be short. Schmack kept Morgan in check well enough for the Satellites (2-4, 0-1) to rally, aided by his own two-run homer. Carson Husmann had three hits and B.J. Intagliata's single tied the game.
"The main thing I told the four seniors is it needs to set in that you're not out here to play forever," Kruszka said. "It starts to become a season of lasts. We're going back and forth all day about whether we're going to play. That doesn't matter. It's Northwest Indiana. Our focus wasn't where it needed to be. I applaud the effort in coming back, but we put ourselves in a hole early and made it tough."
Mack thought the win spoke to the maturity of his team.
"Last year, we lose this game," he said. "We'd fall down and not get back up. We experienced that feeling the last nine games of the year. They had to feel that failure to feel this victory."