Vikings fall to Brebeuf in pivotal regional game

·4 min read

Jun. 4—Culley DeGroote thought the game was the one that could propel his West Vigo High School baseball team to Victory Field.

And it might have won a Class 3A state championship for Brebeuf.

The Vikings' 24-game winning streak came to an end Saturday morning at the hands of the Braves and Andrew Dutkanych by a 4-0 score. The Braves had to use a second pitcher in the Danville Regional championship game later that day, but if Brebeuf was successful it will be able to use Dutkanych — a potential first-round Major League Baseball draft pick a month or so from now — in its last two tournament rounds.

If the Brebeuf senior has two more starts this season, and if he throws the way he did against the Vikings, his team's chances are pretty good.

"Pitching is the trump card," DeGroote said after the game. "We wanted him to have to pitch well to beat us."

"It helps when you're throwing 90s and have three pitches working," said West Vigo's Ben Kearns, the tough-luck losing pitcher, about his mound foe on Saturday.

After allowing a leadoff ground out by Peyton Clerk, Dutkanych struck out the next eight Vikings in three perfect innings. The Brebeuf pitcher had an immaculate inning in the third, striking out all three West Vigo batters on nine pitches.

The Braves, in the meantime, had taken a 2-0 lead on two-out clutch hits in each of the first two innings. Kearns looked like he might escape a man-on-third, one-out situation in the first inning until Will Schenkenberg delivered a two-out single, and Josh Bingman — the ninth hitter in the Brebeuf batting order — had a two-out RBI double in the second.

Kearns had battled issues with the mound early — "I felt like I was releasing the ball way too high," the Viking pitcher said after the game — that brought about some reconstruction work, but he settled in and was outstanding the next three innings.

"It took a lot longer than it should have [to feel comfortable]," Kearns said later, "and [the Braves] hit the ball when they needed to."

"Ben threw well," his coach agreed afterward, "but the margin of error was small."

Clerk broke up the perfect-game bid with a leadoff single in the top of the fourth, and sped all the way to third when Jerome Blevins bunted past Dutkanych into a vacant part of the infield. Blevins then stole second, but Dutkanych responded with three strikeouts.

Rhyan Shaffer walked with two out in the fifth, but Nick Lindsey's line drive was caught in right field.

In the top of the sixth, Clerk hit another leadoff single and stole second, and Blevins was called out on a bang-bang play when he grounded to shortstop.

"I definitely was [safe at first]," Blevins said after the game, and a two-out intentional walk to Carter Murphy brought the lead run to the plate to no avail. After the Braves put three hits together for a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth, Shaffer lined a two-out single in the top of the seventh that was the Vikings' last gasp.

"We had the baserunners," DeGroote said later. "A big hit here or there could have changed things. We wanted to get [Dutkanych] in the stretch . . . we battled one through nine, and the last four innings we made him work. But tip your hat to him: he threw great pitches."

Although Dutkanych allowed four hits, he walked just two — one intentional, the other on a borderline full-count call — and when the Viking hitters got two strikes on them, it was pick-your-poison time: mid-90s fastball (supposedly at least one pitch Saturday was clocked at 97 miles per hour), mid-80s slider or 12-to-6 curveball.

"He threw good and he threw hard," Blevins said of Dutkanych. "We didn't jump on him early in the counts [often enough]."

"I was just hunting fastballs, that's all I was looking for," said Clerk, who had half the Vikings' hits. "I wasn't trying to do too much."

"This was a heartbreaker," DeGroote concluded. "This has been a special season, and I hate to see it come to an end. I feel bad for all my kids, but especially the four seniors [Clerk, Blevins, Lindsey and Josh Sigler]."

"I wouldn't change anything," Clerk said. "We gave it our all. I'm proud of these guys."