Losing in the Class 4A state title game was only part of the pain for the Lake Central softball program Saturday night.
Saying goodbye to seven seniors who have been the lifeblood of the program for the past several years was the elephant in the dugout as Decatur Central came from behind in a 5-2 victory at Bittinger Stadium in West Lafayette.
Win or lose, Saturday was always going to be a bit bittersweet as Jessi Kiefor, Cheyenne Mathas, Selena Michko, Amanda Noblett, Alexa Pinarski, Rylee Platusic and Madisen Tucker played in their final high school game.
“This was ‘The Dream Team,’” Kiefor said as the Indians slowly made their way off the field following Saturday night’s loss. “This is the strongest class that we’ve had at Lake Central in a long time. We came in here from Day 1 and we just went to work.”
Five of Lake Central’s seniors earned varsity playing time as freshmen with Platusic being the only member of the class to play against Center Grove in the 2015 state title game. The shortstop was nearly the hero against Decatur Central when she ripped an opposite-field, two-run single that scored Mathas and junior Gabi Carra to give the Indians a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning.
Noblett and Kiefor, two players who will be forever linked after being in a horrific car accident last August, joined their teammates on varsity as sophomore and helped lead the Indians to a 23-7 record. They notched 23 wins against as juniors, but once again fell to Crown Point in Class 4A sectional action.
Beating the Bulldogs, the defending state champions, in sectional play this year was a measure of sweet revenge, but the Indians always had their eyes on the bigger prize, a fourth state title. Lake Central coach Jeff Sherman relied heavily on his seniors this season and his veterans answered the call in the postseason.
“It seems like every one of these seniors has had a moment in the postseason,” Sherman said earlier this week.
Noblett had two hits and scored against Lowell, Michko had a two-run home run and game-winning sacrifice fly against Kankakee Valley and Pinarski slowed Crown Point’s offensive attack in the sectional title game.
Kiefor scored the game-tying run and Mathas delivered the RBI that sent the Indians to semistate with a 2-1 win over Chesterton.
Tucker had four hits throughout the postseason, including a double against Penn in the semistate semifinals. Mathas once again shined by scoring two runs against Noblesville in the semistate title game.
Then there was Platusic coming up with the biggest hit of her career in the state title game.
The seniors shined at every turn and taught the underclassmen what it means to succeed.
“Each of these kids play at high levels,” Sherman said. “This stage is not new to them. They’ve been in huge games their entire lives.”
The careers will continue for Lake Central’s seniors. Kiefor (Ball State), Pinarski (Columbia) and Platusic (Purdue) plan to play Division I softball next year while Mathas (Lakeland University), Michko (Purdue Northwest), Noblett (Purdue Northwest) and Tucker (St. Francis) also are scheduled to play in college.
“You go into retrospective mode,” Sherman said when asked about the legacy left behind. “You think about the great things we accomplished throughout the course of the season.”