MUNSTER — As Mike Swartzentruber walked to the mound in the fifth inning of Monday's Class 4A Munster Sectional championship, his impending pitching change took him on a stroll down memory lane.
"Not to sound too corny, but my dad and I would always watch baseball and wonder why teams would wait until the last inning to throw their closer," Swartzentruber said. "The momentum had switched. (Highland) had its best hitter up, it was now or never. If we were going to go down, I wasn't going to go down second guessing."
Swartzentruber pointed to shortstop Conner Tomasic, his late-inning pitcher, to preserve a one-run lead with two on and two outs in the fifth. The Purdue recruit responded with a three-pitch strikeout of Damen Castillo and the Indians countered with three runs in the bottom half to go up 7-3, which stood as the final score.
"I didn't even know I was coming in," Tomasic said after dousing his coach with a bucket of ice water. "I thought we were going to go to our other sophomore (Alex James), then he pointed to me at the last second. My goal is always to get ahead, then when I saw he couldn't catch up to my first two pitches, I just tried to throw a high heater passed him."
Mired in a slump at the plate, Tomasic broke out with two run-scoring singles to go with his save.
"He's struggled and to be honest, we were debating whether to hit for him," Swartzentruber said. "Hey, he's a D-I guy, we were going to stick with him."
There may have been more doubts after Tomasic struck out twice, but the Indians' leadoff man singled in a run in the fourth after a Hunter Zahorsky homer. He followed Jake Dykstra's two-run single to center in the fifth with another RBI hit.
"I've definitely been struggling," Tomasic said. "I went up the third time, I took a deep breath and just said, 'I've got to come up for the team.'"
Dykstra, the Indians' No. 9 hitter, reached on a bunt in the third and scored on a wild pitch after a Justin Graves sacrifice fly brought in Evan Hand. Zahorsky, Hand and Dykstra, the bottom third of the L.C. order, accounted for five runs and three RBIs.
"Hand's walked like 23, 24 times," Swartzentruber said. "We know Hunter can thump, so we try to get him where he can see some fastballs. Hand, Dykstra and (Matt) Fundich have all been good down there, getting on base, setting up the top."
A part-time player until Ray Hilbrich was lost with a broken hand around mid-season, Dykstra functions as a second lead off man for the Indians (24-5).
"I'm just trying to get on base to help the team any way possible," Dykstra said. "I knew Conner would get them out and I was just trying to get him some cushion. I feel like we don't have a hole in our lineup. We can all drive the ball."
Highland (20-6) managed just three hits against starter Zack Dobos and Tomasic.
"Our mindset was we were going to have to play perfect baseball to beat those guys," Trojans coach Matt Bogner said. "All season, we've probably walked 100 guys and about 70 have scored. We had some defensive mishaps, we didn't execute when we needed to, but these seniors have won 43 games in two years, so I want to keep it positive. We ask them to leave it better than they found it and they did. There are going to be some tough holes to fill."