Tough regional awaits Alices

Staff photo by Tom Graham

Lincoln’s baseball team shows its trophy after winning the Vincennes Sectional on Monday at Hill Field. The Alices take on Evansville Memorial in the Evansville Bosse Regional at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

The song “Celebration” was a No. 1 hit in 1981 and has since become most recognized for its usage at weddings, parties and sporting events.

Around Vincennes though, the Kool & the Gang track may be best known as the winning anthem for the Lincoln baseball team. With a 13-1 record at Hill Field this season, the Alices certainly had plenty of opportunities to blast the tune.

But the song was most welcomed on Monday when Lincoln snagged its first sectional championship since 2007 with an impressive 11-0 five-inning victory over Princeton in the Class 3A Vincennes Sectional. The Alices’ celebration lasted over 24 hours, but coach Tim Hutchison said the team still has plenty left to pursue.

“We made sure to tell the kids to enjoy it. This doesn’t happen often, and we wanted them to enjoy it,” Lincoln coach Tim Hutchison said. “We had a late practice Tuesday, and we could tell the kids were still giddy over winning it. I’d say we really didn’t get too much of a focus (Tuesday), but the last two days we’ve been completely focused. We’re proud that they’re ready to go. They’re excited for the opportunity to try and advance another week.”

Lincoln (21-8) trades in the friendly confines of Hill Field for the University of Evansville’s Braun Stadium on Saturday to face Evansville Memorial (18-9) in the Evansville Bosse Regional at 1:30 p.m. The regional opener features South Dearborn (16-7) against No. 10 Silver Creek (21-6) at 11 a.m. The championship game is at 8 p.m.

Lincoln is seeking its first regional title since making its State Championship run in 2002.

It’s a rematch Saturday for the Alices,

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who dropped a 3-1 decision at Memorial on April 26. The teams combined for just three hits that game, and with each squad boasting deep pitching staffs, it’s likely another pitcher’s duel is in store for Saturday.

Senior left-hander Jalen Cardinal anchors the Alices’ pitching staff. He took the complete-game loss against Memorial last month, but struck out 16 while yielding just one earned run on one hit. He was hampered in that outing by eight walks, but he’s been mostly flawless since then.

In his five starts since that loss, all complete games, Cardinal has struck out 47 in 34 innings, with 22 hits, only six walks and just two earned runs. The only loss came against Jasper, 2-1 in eight innings, which also accounted for half the walks and nearly half the hits in that span. His last three starts have been shutouts.

The Tigers possess a trio of strong starters in seniors Michael Lindauer and Craig Karcher and sophomore Nick Coleman. All three have earned run averages under 1.50, with Lindauer allowing just one earned run in 37 innings. Karcher leads the way with 49 strikeouts in 44 innings, and Coleman stifled the Alices in their first meeting.

Hutchison said Lindauer, a Cincinnati football commit as a quarterback, is probably Memorial’s ace, though he didn’t know who his team might face Saturday with the 10th-ranked Dragons likely looming in the championship. Despite impressive seasons from other Lincoln pitchers — juniors Baron Vieck, Ben Berson and Brody Ruggles and sophomore Eric Vickers — there’s no question who’s taking the mound for the Alices in their opener.

“I don’t know what they’re going to do, but we’re going to throw Jalen,” Hutchison said. “Our kids know that he’s going to keep them in any ball game, and the way he works quickly, throwing strikes, it keeps them alert most of the game, and that’s helpful.

“We played them earlier, and Jalen pitched well. We know they have a good pitching staff, and they’ve had a lot of success in other sports. They have a good, athletic senior class, but we know we can compete with them. We’re excited for the opportunity, and we want to make the most of our trip to the regional.”

Lindauer is also the team’s top hitter from the lead-off spot with a .378 average, but senior Branson Combs, Lindauer’s primary receiving target for the state runner-up football Tigers, is the only other player with an average over .300, and he has team-bests with three home runs and 24 RBIs.

The Alices rely on their three seniors at the top of the order, Spencer Corrona, Isaac Lane and Cardinal. Lane was the hero Monday, smashing a home run in his final Hill Field at-bat to go with a triple and six RBIs against Princeton. But Corrona and Cardinal have delivered throughout the season as well, and the rest of the Alices’ lineup has shown the ability to play some small ball, which will likely be needed Saturday.

“It very easily could be (a pitcher’s duel), and it’s probably going to come down to who can get the big hit when they need it,” Hutchison said. “Our first three hitters can do a lot of damage, and our other guys know their roles and have embraced it. They know moving runners along is part of the offense. When you have low-scoring games, a bunt here or a bunt there can make the difference. It puts the pressure on the defense and if you can force a mistake, it can snowball. That’s what led to some big innings for us in the sectional. Hopefully we can continue to put the bat on the ball, keep moving runners around, and drive them in.

“We’re not intimidated. We know they’re a good, athletic group. But we went toe-to-toe with them in April, and we’re glad we get the chance to do it again.”

Silver Creek was the state runner-up a season ago, defeating Memorial 7-1 in the regional title game, and appears to be the favorite to repeat on Saturday. The Dragons have seven seniors, paced by Southern Indiana commit Tyler Wheeler, but they also have young contributors in sophomore pitcher Holden Groher, already committed to Indiana, and freshman Dominic Decker, son of Silver Creek coach Joe Decker. Wheeler injured his quad on May 8 and was sidelined for several weeks before returning to pitch a four-hit shutout in the sectional championship game, 1-0, over Providence.

Seniors Ethan Getz and Jace Leonard are among the top hitters for South Dearborn. Getz tripled with a pair of singles in the Knights’ 16-1 thrashing of Madison in the sectional championship game Monday, while Leonard also had three hits and an RBI. Freshman Reese Willoughby has been South Dearborn’s best pitcher.

The Dragons and Knights each have common opponents with Lincoln. Silver Creek clubbed Lanesville, 15-1, and North Harrison, 9-5. The Alices lost to both those teams in the same day at the Southridge Invitational, falling to Lanesville, 3-0, and North Harrison, 8-3. The only common opponent for South Dearborn was Boonville, which the Knights and Alices each nipped, 2-1.

Memorial last won a regional in 2016, while South Dearborn last took the crown in 2007. The Alices came up just short in their regional effort in 2007 and would have played the Knights in the four-team semistate opener had they advanced.

The semistate is June 8 at either Jasper or Mooresville against the winner of the Crawfordsville Regional. No. 2 Edgewood, which played in Lincoln’s season-opening, rain-shortened McDonald’s tournament in March, is the only ranked team in that field.

EVANSVILLE BOSSE REGIONAL

At Braun Stadium, University of Evansville

Saturday’s games

South Dearborn (16-7) vs. No. 10 Silver Creek (21-6), 11 a.m.

Lincoln (21-8) vs. Evansville Memorial (18-9), 1:30 p.m.

Championship, 8 p.m.

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