by Beau Wicker
There’s usually little room for error when going up against a No. 1-ranked team.
When going up against Northfield star pitcher Ryan Keaffaber, there’s usually no room for error.
Lewis Cass’ baseball team had just a few miscues that came back to bite, and Keaffaber was his usual dominating self as the No. 1 Norsemen defeated the Kings 3-0 in a Class 2A Wabash Sectional semifinal game.
Northfield (25-3) plays Oak Hill (10-17) today for the championship. Cass finishes 18-7. It was the second year in a row the Kings were eliminated by the Norsemen in sectional play.
Keaffaber (10-1), an Indiana State recruit, fired a two-hit shutout to lead the Norsemen. The senior left-hander pitched the Norse to a state title a year ago. He’s allowed earned runs in just three of his 16 appearances this season.
“The left-hander’s a darn good pitcher,” Cass coach Greg Marschand said. “Sometimes in life you’ve got to tip your hat when you get beat.”
Connor Adams (5-4) certainly gave the Kings a chance. The senior right-hander only allowed one earned run coming in the sixth inning, but the Kings couldn’t get anything mustered against Keaffaber.
The Kings put the ball in play, striking out only five times against a pitcher that entered averaging 14.7 per game, but they couldn’t push across any runs.
Their best chance came in the fourth inning when Zach McCoy hit a two-out double that nearly left the yard down the left-field line. Austin Clem then drew a walk, and McCoy later advanced to third on a throwing error on a pickoff attempt. But Keaffaber got out of the jam when Kyle Dwiggins lined out to second to end the inning with the Norse leading 2-0.
McCoy also led off the seventh with an infield single but Keaffaber retired the next three batters in order to finish off the game.
Keaffaber was perfect in five of the seven innings. The only error the Norse committed was on his pickoff attempt.
“We tried our best to put the ball in play through drag bunts and moving the ball around, but it seemed like every time we did put the ball in play, they made the play,” Marschand said. “We hit the ball right at ’em.
“We made contact. We worked in practice on curveballs on the outside. He had 18 strikeouts [against North Miami last Thursday]. These guys worked their tails off. It’s a crying shame to not see all the work that went in get some profit out of it. But you know what, I guarantee you in life that all those guys in that dugout are going to be winners one way or another. They’ll be positive people in the communities they live in. Really in the long run, that’s what it’s all about. It’s what they’re going to become five or 10 years from now, and every one of them will be winners.”
Adams allowed three runs (one earned) on seven hits and one walk, striking out three.
“It’s a crying shame when somebody goes out and pitches that well that they don’t reap the benefit of it,” Marschand said. “He did all we asked him to do. We just couldn’t get some runs up on the board and give him some support.”
An error by the shortstop led to the Norsemen’s first run of the game in the first inning. To compound the error, the Kings’ third baseman made a poor throw to the plate that could have cut down the run.
A two-base throwing error by the shortstop on a grounder in the third inning allowed the second run to score.
The third run was scored in the sixth after a leadoff walk led to a two-out RBI single by Collin Dawes.
Keaffaber went 2-for-3 with two infield singles for the Norse. Adam Roser went 1-for-4 with two runs scored.
“They made us pay for our mistakes. That’s the making of a good team,” Marschand said. “We wish them the best of luck, but the six guys I have I wouldn’t ever trade for anybody in the world. Those six seniors are great kids and they gave us everything they had and that’s all you can ask.”
The Kings will lose Adams, McCoy, Clem, Blake Cain, Garrett Pullen and Jake Gremelspacher to graduation.
“This one hurts for the seniors. We’ve got six seniors that are pretty good kids and we’ve got a lot of mileage out of these guys and they’ve made so we got a lot of mileage out of the younger guys, too. They made that happen.
“For these guys to win 18 games and work their tails off, I’m very proud of them.”