By KEVIN HARRIS
PLAINFIELD – When Providence fans reminisce about the seniors on the 2017 Pioneer baseball team, they will remember what this class helped the program accomplish during arguably the most successful period in its history.
That includes three sectional championships, two regional titles, a semistate crown and most importantly the 2016 Class 2A state championship, which was the first in program history.
After No. 2 Providence lost 5-1 to No. 3 Indianapolis Ritter in the Class 2A Plainfield Semistate last Saturday, veteran Pioneers’ head coach Scott Hornung said he will have an additional memory about the five seniors – Juston Betz, Parker Graf, Jake Lewis, Garrett Popp and Blake Wurm – along with the trophies they helped accumulate.
“More than just playing baseball, just taking the team under their wings and making sure that baseball was fun when they came to the park. That’s my best memory of this group is that they made the game fun,” Hornung said.
Despite the Pioneers (28-5) coming up short of returning to Victory Field in Indianapolis for the Class 2A state championship game, Hornung was thrilled with what his players accomplished this season. Providence set a single-season wins record, claimed its 18th sectional title overall and won back-to-back regional championships for the first time in program history.
“It was a tremendous season. I’m very proud,” Hornung said. “One of our mantras is to leave the jersey in a better place. Over the course of the last two years, all of our players associated with the program have definitely left the jerseys in a better place. I think we’re a respected program that plays baseball the right way with our competitors.
“At the end of the day, there is always a winner and a loser. But we’re just losers on the scoreboard today. We’re definitely winners as far as how we approach the game and how we treat each other.”
Pioneer batters struggled throughout the semistate trying to figure out Ritter starter and Indiana Mr. Baseball candidate Blake Malatestinic. The senior right-hander pitched a five-hitter to improve his record to 11-1, surrendering one earned run. Malatestinic, who is this season’s Indianapolis City Player of the Year, struck out six and walked one.
Malatestinic had a nasty curveball that kept some Pioneers off-balance and worked fast on the mound with a quick wind-up.
“He was a little bit different than what I anticipated that he would be,” Hornung said. “The one thing that he definitely was - and I thought he would be - was a competitor. I did not think his fastball was the difference. I felt like his ability to throw his off-speed pitch was the difference although I just felt because of the (early) deficit, we did not continue to have the same approaches that we necessarily might have had in certain situations. He’s definitely a competitor and he earned the win today.”
Providence got off to a rough start, allowing the Raiders (27-3) to take a 3-0 lead after one inning.
With two out and runners on first and second base in the bottom of the first, Lewis knocked down a line drive off the bat of Raider junior Ben Egenolf. But Lewis threw the ball past Pioneer first baseman Reece Davis, allowing Ritter courtesy runner Joey Gruber to score from second.
The Raiders’ lead grew to 2-0 when third baseman Brian Bacon collected an RBI single to right field. On the play, Providence right fielder Kaden Williams made an errant throw to third. Egenolf responded to the error by coming home for the third score.
Ritter tacked on another run in the bottom of the second. Junior Henry Woodcock led off the frame by drilling a double into the left-center gap off Lewis. Two batters later, Woodcock came home on a two-out single by junior Kyle Price to put the Raiders up 4-0.
The Pioneers’ lone run came in the top of the fourth. Lewis smacked a one-out single to center off Malatestinic, followed by Providence courtesy runner Preston Taylor advancing to second on a wild pitch. Taylor then scored on a base hit by Pioneer shortstop Timmy Borden on a hit-and-run play.
Still, Hornung did not completely feel that his players got lots of momentum from the run that cut Providence’s deficit to 4-1.
“I felt like we were close. I never felt like we really crossed through the door though. I never felt like we really completely got back into it,” Hornung said. “Once we got that run on the board and we had a runner on, we still had opportunities because we missed a 3-1 fastball pitch on a fly out to right and we missed a 2-0 fastball pitch on a pop-up. I just felt like we were really close. (Malatestinic) completely just continued to come back with strikes and it really gave us some opportunities.”
But the Raiders got their advantage back to four in the bottom half as Woodcock scored on a two-out passed ball.
“We made the mistakes and we dug ourselves a hole,” Hornung said. “It changed the whole complexion of the game because I feel if it was a tighter game, some of those baserunners as the game continued could’ve played out in a different scenario.
“We made the mistakes and they cashed in on them and I feel like that was the difference in the game.”
Lewis pitched 3 1/3 innings as his record dropped to 9-3. The left-hander, who will play at Eastern Kentucky University next season, yielded five runs (one earned) on five hits. He struck out three and walked two.
Davis relieved Lewis in the top of the fourth and pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings. Davis surrendered no hits, struck out four and walked two.
Ritter will face Wapahani (19-11) in the Class 2A state-title game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Victory Field.
CLASS 2A PLAINFIELD SEMISTATE
INDIANAPOLIS RITTER 5, PROVIDENCE 1
Providence 000 100 0-1 5 2
Ritter 310 100 x-5 5 1
W – Blake Malatestinic (11-1). L – Jake Lewis (9-3). 2B – Henry Woodcock (R).
Records – Providence 28-5, Ritter 27-3.