MICHIGAN CITY — After staking itself to a second-inning, 6-0 cushion, La Porte Post 83 Hamon Gray appeared to be safe.
But strange things happen sometimes in baseball, and late Friday afternoon was one of those occasions.
La Porte tallied six runs in the second to build a seemingly comfortable advantage, but South Suburban (Illinois) gradually chipped away at the deficit, scoring three runs in each of the last two innings.
The Panthers capitalized on some La Porte misplayed balls in the fifth, when South Suburban plated three runs to go ahead 7-6. That proved to be the final score as Post 83 lost a difficult decision, 7-6, to the Panthers in an American Legion Junior Division Midwest Championship baseball game at Michigan City High School on a sunny, humid day.
“We had a couple plays that we could have made and we didn't,” La Porte coach Kevin McGuire said. “There's a big difference between could've and should've. I can't say that either one of those balls should have been caught, they could have been caught. But that's one of the differences in the game. We win that game if either one of those are caught. Those are tough balls though.”
Trailing 6-4, South Suburban had three straight hits to begin the fifth, including an RBI single.
Then, the Panthers used a sacrifice bunt between the pitcher's mound and first base with a runner on third and no outs. La Porte pitcher Noah Christian, a La Porte High School sophomore, fielded the ball and got the out at first. But the runner scored from third to tie it 6-6. South Suburban followed with another bunt with a runner on third, this time not as hard, and Christian fielded it and appeared to have a play on the runner at home plate, however, he couldn't get the ball out of his glove and the Panthers went ahead 7-6. Christian retired the next two batters, but the damage had been done.
Those pair of bunts were hurtful for Post 83 (6-7).
“The first one, the pitcher made a good play, they got the out, exactly what you need to do,” McGuire said. “Just go get the out and live to play another one. Don't give away the big inning. The second one, the ball just got stuck in his glove. He was gearing up to make the right play, which was to come home, because he had the runner at home. But he just couldn't get it out of his mitt. It's not an error, it's not a mistake, he just didn't make the play and it cost us.”
South Suburban also hit the ball fairly well in the final two innings, as six of its nine hits came in that time.
La Porte tried to mount a rally in its last at-bat in the bottom of the fifth and got the tying run to second. It didn't score, though, falling by one run to drop a heartbreaker. Riley Attar, a La Porte High sophomore, walked, and Seth Kupres, a La Porte High junior, had his third hit of the game, but pinch runner Caleb McGuire, a La Porte High sophomore, who was running for Attar, was stranded at second to end the game.
In the second, Post 83 put a crooked number on the board, jumping ahead 6-0.
The first seven batters of the frame reached base, including four hits. Kupres ripped an RBI single to center, scoring Evan Cizewski, a La Porte High sophomore, who doubled leading off. Cayden George, a La Porte High sophomore, followed with an RBI base hit down the third-base line, and Kupres later scored on a wild pitch. George touched home on the shortstop's throwing error, while Spencer Noveroske, also a La Porte High sophomore, hit an RBI single to right center. Alex Contreas, a Michigan City High School sophomore, closed the scoring in the inning with an RBI groundout to second.
La Porte pounced on a pair of errors and two walks in the second.
“They made mistakes,” Coach McGuire said. “They had two or three throwing errors. We hit the ball hard. We hit the ball very solid. We had their timing down on their first pitcher pretty good. We just fed off their mistakes. We were really able to take advantage of their mistakes.”
The Panthers gradually clawed back though and made it a competitive contest.
They scored a single run in the third, then pulled within 6-4 in the fourth. That set the stage for the fifth.
In the contest, Kupres finished 3-for-3 with a double, an RBI, and scored a run.
“Seth (Kupres) was huge today,” Coach McGuire said. “In the earlier game, too, he had some very good at-bats. He probably had at least two strikes on him two times, so great at-bats. And he put a solid swing on it and the ball went. They were throwing hard today, so the ball carried.”
Post 83’s Luke Swistek recorded the loss in relief, surrendering six runs on seven hits in 1 2/3 innings. He struck out a pair and walked none.
Contreas started and threw the first 2 1/3 innings, allowing one run on two hits. He fanned one and walked a pair.
Christian pitched the last inning of scoreless ball. He gave up no hits, striking out one and walking none.
La Porte's pitchers combined for only two walks.
Besides Kupres, Noveroske went 2-of-3, while Attar walked twice and scored a run.
Earlier on Friday, La Porte fell 9-2 to the St. Joseph (Mich.) Grizzlies.
Post 83 plays two games in the Midwest Championship on Saturday, at 10 a.m. at Michigan City High School, then at 2 p.m. at the Marquette Athletic Complex. That will complete its pool play.
Despite the hard-fought setback, Coach McGuire remained upbeat.
“That was a very good team we played tonight, so I don't want to take anything away from them,” he said. “But our kids battled. They played well. They had a chance to win the game. It's unfortunate we didn't get the win. It's good experience. It's a good chance to play quality teams.”
South Suburban (Illinois) 7, La Porte Post #83 6
La Porte’s Seth Kupres went a perfect 3-for-3 with an RBI.