SOUTH BEND – Falling behind early, the Heritage Patriots did not waver in commitment to their game plan and team fundamentals, winning the fourth regional title in program history with a big ten-run inning that took a 3-1 game to a run-rule victory in South Bend in the 3A regional.
Playing in the IHSAA’s new one-game regional format, the Patriots had no doubt who would stand on the mound and throw the first pitch against the East Noble Knights, who were surprise sectional champions after a 1-6 season this year in the NE8. Noah Redmon allowed an early run in the second inning when he hit the first batter, Alex Brennan.
The first and only run for East Noble came more as a result of the failure to handle the sacrifice bunt after the HBP than the actual hit batsman. The Heritage catcher made the throw to first when there was little chance of getting an out and the ensuing error allowed Brennan to take third. The Patriots got Brennan out at home on another sacrifice attempt, but the runner who reached on the error scored a few pitches later on a wild pitch.
Noah was certain to take the blame for the run in that inning, signaling to his catcher that the fault was his and not his battery mate’s.
The Patriots threatened in both of the opening innings against big left-hander Luke Mast, but they stranded three runners and leadoff hitter Andrew Mirelez was the leadoff man again to start the third. Mirelez singled to center and Caleb Abbott followed with a single of his own, setting up Redmon to help himself. Redmon hit a sharp ground ball to second base and the Knights attempted to come home to get Mirelez, but everyone was safe and the game was tied. Jackson Bearman followed with an RBI single to score Abbott, but Mast clamped down and got the next three outs, stranding Redmon’s courtesy runner, Max Mirelez, at third.
East Noble got their first hit in the third, but Redmon got a big strikeout to get out of a jam, then the bottom of the Heritage lineup started another rally, setting up Redmon for an RBI single with a walk to Landon Lybarger and a single by Cam Rauner. The 8-9 hitters reaching was enough for East Noble to pull Mast and bring in Gunner Wiley.
With momentum on their side, the Pats took advantage of two massive East Noble mistakes to take a stranglehold on the contest. Owen Ritchie worked hard to earn a leadoff walk from Redmon, but picked off at first by Tyler Redmon behind the plate. Then, Parker Kerr singled but was gunned down trying to score later in the inning by a bullet from center fielder Caleb Abbott to end the fourth inning.
Still a 3-1 game, the regional championship entered the fifth, and unbeknownst to most in attendance, and final inning.
Senior Dalton White, who missed his commencement ceremony Saturday afternoon to play in the game, had already struck out twice in the game, but he singled hard up the middle to lead off the inning. Morgan Andrews followed up with a walk from Wiley, but the Patriots failed to move the runners over, popping up a bunt for the first out.
“What do you think we are going to work on when we get back?,” asked coach Lehrman with a smile after the game. “Bunting.”
The mistake was not costly, however, because a few pitches later, the luck came back to Heritage when Lybarger’s ground ball down the third base line struck the bag and the bases were loaded with Cam Rauner coming up.
The shortstop singled to center and after a walk to Mirelez and a third single in the game by Abbott, it was 6-1 Patriots and the Knights were forced to make a pitching change.
The new pitcher, Jackson Leedy, faced four batters and did not record an out, walking two and allowing RBI hits by Noah Redmon and Morgan Andrews.
Andrews, another one of the seniors who gave up his cap and gown for a mitt and a cap, made it 11-1 with his two-run single and suddenly the game had much less life for East Noble.
White made quite a play to be safe going from first to third on Andrews’ big hit, somehow evading the initial tag by the EN 3B, running past the bag, and then sliding head first back to the base.
Lybarger singled a few batters later against Owen Ritchie, who replaced Leedy, to make it 13-1 and the rest, as they say, is history.
East Noble attempted to at least extend the game into the sixth with a single and then a pop fly that dropped due to the sun, but Redmon struck out the side and Heritage raised the trophy in South Bend.
Abbott ended the afternoon 3 for 4, while Noah Redmon was 2 for 4 with three RBIs. Andrews and Lybarger also drove in two. Rauner had three hits from the No. 9 spot and the Patriots made just one error.
The Patriots will now face Frankfort in the semi-state semifinal at Oak Hill Saturday. A win against the Hot Dogs will pit them against either Norwell or Andrean for a shot at the State Finals.