Senior staff writer
Lutheran’s semistate-bound baseball team is on a historic roll.
Winners of 11 sectional championships, the Saints had never won a regional title until Saturday night against Rising Sun at Morristown.
The Saints’ five previous consecutive trips to a Class A regional resulted in four opening game losses and a title game loss in 2013 to Rising Sun 4-1. The sixth time was a charm.
Unranked and upset-minded, Lutheran (18-7) faces No. 8 Lanesville (18-6), winners of 10 straight games, Saturday at Plainfield or Jasper. The winner advances against No. 3 Rossville (23-8) or No. 10 South Newton (20-8) for the Class A state championship June 16 or June 17 at Victory Field.
The Saints overpowered Edinburgh 10-1 in the regional opener and then defeated Rising Sun 6-1 for their first regional championship celebration.
“The jinx is over,” relieved Lutheran coach Dick Alter said. “The kids knew we had never won; I’m very happy for the kids.”
The Saints combined solid pitching, defense and hitting to outscore four opponents 37-3 while capturing sectional and regional championships.
“We played a tough regular season schedule,” Alter said. “We had our defensive problems earlier, but our defense has been exceptional lately. We really have come together as a team.”
The Saints’ first five batters reached base in a four-run, first-inning outburst against Rising Sun. The Shiners tapped the Saints for a run in the fourth, but Lutheran (18-7) retaliated with two runs in the fifth.
Sophomore Matthew Alter and freshman Aiden Bradbury shared the mound duties against Rising Sun, teaming together as they did in the sectional championship game one week earlier. Alter relies on control, breaking pitchers and having batters put the ball in play. Bradbury relies on his fastball.
“They are able to show teams we play a different look,” Alter said. “They are a combination that we have used a lot this year.”
Bradbury in relief and the Saints kept the heart of Rising Sun’s batting order from reaching base in the sixth inning to help preserve the four-run championship win.
The Saints earlier spanked Edinburgh with 12 hits. Shortstop Patrick Kem had three hits in four at-bats, and Alter was two-for-three, including a booming double to deep center field.
Sophomore Noah Wood went five innings against the Lancers with Alter and Bradbury mopping up in the sixth.
Although the Saints’ bats have been lively, Lutheran has relied upon extraordinary defensive play, according to Alter.
A few weeks before the playoffs began, Alter made two key defensive moves to shore up the outfield. Senior second baseman Jacob Faubion moved to center field, and sophomore Jared Sneed, recovered from injury, returned to right field. Meanwhile freshman Alex Kem started at second.
The Saints’ infield features Alter or Bradbury at first when not pitching, Kem at second, Pat Kem at shortstop and junior Carson Thomas at third.
Lutheran fields a young team with only four seniors (Faubion, Patrick, Kem and Zach Sanders), one junior, five sophomores and three freshmen.
The Saints, who fashioned winning streaks of seven and four games during the regular season, are riding a four-game streak and would like nothing better than to extend it to two more games.