MICHIGAN CITY — After Jeremiah Tefteller's athletic play at the plate saved a run for pitcher Donevan Randall in the third inning, Randall figured he owed his teammate one when they switched positions in the following frame.
"I had like seven of them," Randall said, estimating the number of potential wild pitches he prevented in the fourth. "At the very beginning, we kind of wanted two games because we love playing the game. I was going to let one go past my mitt, but I thought, nah, that would make (Tefteller) look bad."
With an assist from Randall's blocking skills, Tefteller closed out Tuesday's Michigan City Parks and Recreation League 15U tournament championship, striking out the final two batters to strand the tying run at third and preserve Fox Photography's 5-4 win over Castle Ford at Patriot Park.
"He's one of the best catchers in the league," Tefteller said of Randall. "I have to give him something. I was worried about my pitches. I was trying to think about my form after throwing a couple in the dirt."
The pair were also at the center of Fox's four-run first inning, Tefteller walking and scoring with a pair of stolen bases, while Randall doubled and scored. Lucas Hanft singled in Kyle Yackus in between. Tefteller singled and beat a pickoff throw to third, swiping home for a second time in the second with what proved to be the decisive run.
"This is the championship, this is serious," Tefteller said. "The only worry we had to have was the team we were facing. It was all about confidence. I told him, coach (Michael Cushway), we're playing one game, we're going home."
Fox led 5-3 in the third when Randall gloved a comebacker with one out and a runner on third. The throw home was a little wide and high, but a leaping Tefteller snagged the peg and applied a sweeping tag to cut down the run.
"I was hoping the throw was decent, but he threw it down," said Tefteller, a Chesterton freshman who has played in the league all his life. "I saw (the runner) coming straight at me. I thought we were going to collide, so I just jumped for it and threw my mitt straight down."
The play looked even more crucial two batters later when Peyton Ash's single cut the margin to one.
"I was just focusing really, trusting my defense," said Randall, a Michigan City sophomore.
Landon Griffin had an RBI single and a run for Castle, which would have forced a winner-take-all game between the teams that night. They met in Monday's opener with Fox prevailing 8-6, forcing Castle to win its next two games to earn a rematch. Though Fox went 3-2-1 against Castle in the regular season, it was Castle that topped the division at 7-3-2 to Fox's 7-4-1 mark.
"It's been back and forth the whole time," Cushway said. "Most of the times, it came down to an error. They're a good team with good coaches. Any given day. Nobody wanted to play a second game."
It was a satisfying moment for Cushway, who had coached Trail Creek T-Ball and softball for 12 years. He hadn't coached baseball for four years, but made the decision at the last minute this spring when an email plea for coaches was sent.
"I didn't know what I was getting," Cushway said. "A lot of them, I'd never coached before. Four of them moved up from 12U, one hadn't played since T-Ball and did very well. They're the most respectful kids I've had on a team. It's yes, coach, no, coach. If I say, go play this position, it's, OK, coach. Winning makes all the bumps and bruises feel better. Right now, they're not feeling any pain. They'll walk around a couple feet off the ground the rest of the night."