Lincoln rally fizzles in regional final
EVANSVILLE — The combination of outstanding pitching, stellar defense and timely hitting was the winning formula for Lincoln as it carried a nine-game winning streak into Saturday's Class 3A Evansville Bosse Regional. That same ingredients got the Alices through its first game Saturday, but they failed to finish it off in the nightcap.
Silver Creek broke up a scoreless tie in the fourth inning, and the 10th-ranked Dragons held off a late Lincoln comeback for a 5-3 victory in the regional championship game at Braun Stadium.
Jalen Cardinal, the Alices' ace, shut down Evansville Memorial in the semifinal, tossing a one-hit shutout in Lincoln's 2-0 win over the Tigers.
Ben Burson and Brody Ruggles weren't nearly as flawless on the mound for Lincoln in the title game, though they did well enough as the duo limited last year's state runner-up to five runs on six hits with no walks. The Alices committed three errors, though none led to any unearned runs, while Dragons' ace Tyler Wheeler held them to four hits with nine strikeouts.
“Ben was really good. He kept the ball down, until one inning they started hitting the ball a little bit,” Alices coach Tim Hutchison said. “Then we brought in Ruggles, and he did everything he could do for us. You can't fault the starting pitching. We made a couple of bad plays in the field, and we didn't think on a couple of plays. But in the grand scheme of things, they're 17-year old kids, and they gave everything they had all year long. That's all we can ask for.”
The Alices (22-9) were down, 4-0, entering the bottom of the sixth, but rallied with two outs. Spencer Corrona was hit by a pitch, and Isaac Lane followed with a double to put runners at second and third. Cardinal followed with a pop fly into shallow right, and Dragons' right fielder Dylan Whitt called off his teammates. But Whitt appeared to lose it in the lights, allowing Corrona and Lane to score, and Cardinal smartly advanced to second with no one covering the bag. The threat ended as Wheeler fanned Baron Vieck, but Lincoln had new hope.
A dropped third strike to start the top of the seventh ended up being crucial. Jack Hawkins reached on the miscue and moved up to second on a passed ball. Ruggles whiffed the next two batters to nearly escape unscathed, but Silver Creek lead-off man Dominic Decker ripped a single to bring in Hawkins for an insurance tally.
Burson, who broke up Wheeler's no-hitter in the fifth, was hit by a pitch to start the home half. Freshman Cam Madden, the designated hitter in Saturday's first game, came off the bench to deliver a pinch-hit double to the left-center gap, and Burson ran through the stop sign at third to score easily. Following a pop out to first, Blake Mincey drew a walk to put the tying runs on base with the top of the order up.
Cardinal was loosening in the bullpen, with 25 pitches remaining on his count, in case the game went to an eighth frame. But Wheeler got Ruggles to fly out to left and struck out Corrona to secure a second straight regional for the Dragons (23-6).
It was the final game for seniors Cardinal, Lane and Corrona.
“This season started with Spencer coming out to play again. It started with Jalen working hard all offseason, and it started with Isaac playing football and doing well in basketball. Those guys set the tone,” Hutchison said. “We have a really good junior class, and we're excited about them and a large freshman class coming in. I'm proud of everything we accomplished. We got beat by a good team, a good program, and we'll think about nothing but the positives that happened this season.”
Burson and Wheeler traded zeroes for the first three innings. Burson retired the first eight batters before nine-hitter Whitt hit a high chopper that glanced off Burson's glove and knocked it out of the reach of another fielder. But Burson worked around it.
Ruggles pitched the final three innings and was perfect in the fifth before surrendering two in the sixth. Ruggles yielded three earned runs on two hits and a hit batter with five strikeouts. Burons allowed two earned runs on four hits and a strikeout. Wheeler, a Southern Indiana commit, worked around two walks and three hit batters in his complete-game win.
“He's an excellent pitcher,” Hutchison said. “What he does is, he throws curveballs in fastball counts and throws fastballs in curveball counts. That's what good pitchers do. He's their best, and we saw why.”
The Alices couldn't lose with their best on the mound against Memorial (18-10). In a 3-1 loss to the Tigers in April, Cardinal fanned a season-high 16 in a one-hit performance but was hampered by eight walks and a pair of errors.
He didn't reach that strikeout total Saturday, but he was just as unhittable and arguably more effective.
Only three Tigers reached base against Cardinal in the regional. Top hitter Michael Lindauer walked twice, and Branson Combs notched an infield single in the fourth. Cardinal retired the final 11 batters he faced, including a pair of strikeouts in the final frame to finish with seven.
“He was outstanding. He was focused,” Hutchison said. “It's amazing the strides he's made, just in this season alone. He just stays there, so completely focused. You can see it as he walks off the mound and as he walks back out. He was completely focused, and nothing was going to faze him.”
With Cardinal on the mound, the Alices needed minimal offense. They got on the board in the third when Ruggles worked a one-out walk and Corrona was hit by a pitch. Memorial pitcher Craig Karcher was called for a balk, moving both runners up a bag, and Lane hit a pop fly to center that was just deep enough for Ruggles to tag up and score.
In the seventh, Ruggles singled with one out. The Tigers expected Corrona to follow with a bunt, but Hutchison had his senior swing away, and Corrona ripped a double to straightaway center, allowing Ruggles to score.
“We had some great baserunning by Brody,” Hutchison said. “I think everybody in the building thought we were going to sacrifice with (Corrona), but if we do that, they probably walk Isaac. So we let Spencer take a shot at it, and he took a shot.”
Lane added a first-inning single, and Madden had the only other hit for Lincoln, a two-out single to load the bases in the sixth. Karcher struck out six Alices but walked four with three hit batters.
Silver Creek took out South Dearborn (16-8), 10-6, in the first semifinal Saturday.
The Dragons advance to the semistate at either Jasper or Mooresville next Saturday, and they face the Crawfordsville Regional winner, either No. 2 Edgewood or Frankfort, which played late Monday due to a Saturday rainout.
Silver Creek |000 202 1 — 5 6 0
Lincoln |000 002 1 — 3 4 3
W-Tyler Wheeler. L-Ben Burson. 2B-SC, Wheeler; L, Isaac Lane, Jalen Cardinal, Cam Madden.
Lincoln |001 000 1 — 2 4 0
Evansville Memorial |000 000 0 — 0 1 2
W-Cardinal. L-Craig Karcher. 2B-L, Spencer Corrona.