By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports editor
Memorial Day weekend in Indiana always means the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday and a heavy slate of high school baseball games on Monday.
Sectionals across the state had opening-round games Wednesday and Thursday. Semifinals and finals will follow on Monday. Locally, all five Howard County squads will be in action Monday.
Kokomo is hosting a Class 4A sectional. Western and Northwestern are in the 3A sectional at Peru. And, Taylor and Eastern are in the 2A field at Eastern.
The following are looks at those sectionals.
Lafayette Jeff (18-12) and Logansport (17-9) are in the 10 a.m. semifinal Monday at CFD Investments Stadium in Highland Park. Kokomo (13-10) and McCutcheon (19-9) will meet in the second semifinal. The winners will return at 7 p.m. to play for the title.
In the opening round, Jeff beat Marion 16-4 in four innings and Logansport blanked Harrison 8-0.
Kokomo coach Tim Weeks knows his squad has its work cut out for it against McCutcheon. The then-No. 1-ranked Mavs beat the Kats 7-2 at Lafayette during the regular season. The Kats led 2-1 after three innings, but the Mavs scored two runs in the fourth to surge into the lead.
“They are a good, solid squad,” Weeks said. “Jake Burton’s teams never beat themselves. They’re smart. They’ve struggled a little hitting the ball lately, but they have a hot pitcher [Justin Curry]. He was hurt the first part of the year, but he’s back now and in his last three outings, he threw a one-hitter, a no-hitter and a four-hitter. He’ll consistently be around the plate so we’ll have to be ready to swing it.
“If we play like we’re capable, it should be a good game, and I think we will. I think the kids will be fired up for the sectional.”
Curry owns a 4-1 record with a miserly 0.47 ERA.
Kokomo is led offensively by Preston Emmons (.365 batting average, 15 RBI), Dylan Orbaugh (.347) and Jesse Broomfield (.325, 16 RBI, 19 stolen bases). The Kats’ top pitchers are Jake McMain (4-3, 3.50 ERA) and Drew Sale (3-2, 2.65).
“It’s been a weird year,” Weeks said. “We got off to a hot start, then we got into trouble with some weather [altering the schedule]. We had a span of something like 13 games in nine days and I think the kids got physically and mentally worn out. But, we finished on a good note, beating a strong Fishers club. My club is pretty good when we play inspired, we’re fired up and we’re focused.
“We have as good a shot as anyone else [Monday]. I’d say going into it, McCutcheon might be a slight favorite to win it and Logansport is playing well, but any of the four teams could win it. They’re evenly matched.”
Kokomo went 2-0 in games against Logansport and 1-0 vs. Jeff during the regular season.
The Class 3A Peru Sectional field began with four Mid-Indiana Conference teams and three Hoosier Conference teams. The MIC dominated three head-to-head matchups in the opening round — Maconaquah beat Twin Lakes 12-2 in six innings, Northwestern beat West Lafayette 8-5 and Peru edged Benton Central 3-2.
Thus, Monday is an all-MIC party. In the 10 a.m. semifinal, defending Class 3A state champion Western (19-5) faces Maconaquah. In the second semifinal, Northwestern (11-10) meets Peru (15-10). The winners will return at 7:30 p.m. to play for the title.
Western won the MIC title with a perfect 7-0 record.
“I think the MIC was highly competitive this year,” longtime coach Ty Calloway said. “We had some fairly close games with Peru, Cass and Northwestern. It’s just one of those things where [the sectional] is going to be highly competitive. You can’t overlook anybody — if you do, you’re going to be knocked out. The team that wins will be the team whose pitchers throw the most strikes and the least walks and [offensively] moves the ball most consistently.”
Western beat Maconaquah 11-1 in six innings in MIC play. Ronnie Smith pitched a complete game and helped his own cause with a pair of two-run hits. Marcus Pingleton belted a home run.
Peru beat Northwestern 11-7 during the regular season. The Bengals used a seven-run uprising in the second inning to take control of the game.
Pingleton leads Western with a sizzling .551 batting average, four homers and 19 RBI. The Panthers’ other top hitters include Evan Warden (.363, 17 RBI), Dakota LaMott (.333, six homers, 19 RBI), Cameron Herr (.329) and Drew Bellus (.297, 25 RBI).
The Panthers’ pitching staff is led by Smith (7-1 record, 2.20 ERA), Warden (4-2, 2.48) and Cameron Kuntz (3-1, 3.58).
“They’re all three ready to go,” Calloway said, noting Smith or Warden will start the semifinal game. “Whichever way we go, I think we’ll be fine.”
Western came into the season with high expectations following the 2012 state title. Calloway likes how the 2013 squad has taken shape.
“I think we’re ready,” he said.
Northwestern had a solid performance against West Lafayette on Thursday and is riding a three-game winning streak — its best streak since opening 3-0.
“We had practice [Saturday] and the kids were excited,” Northwestern skipper Mike Brazel said. “Outside of one bad inning [against West Lafayette], we played very well in all three facets of the game. We had 11 hits, committed only two errors and pitched well for the most part. I like our chances if we can duplicate that [against Peru].”
The Purple Tigers’ top hitters are Logan Macaluso (.471, 19 RBI), Trenton Brazel (.461, 10 extra-base hits), Keagan Downey (.422, 11 extra-base hits) and Conner Milligan (.400, six homers, 26 RBI).
Macalsuso (3-2 record, 2.44 ERA) and Trevor Richmond (3-2, 2.87) anchor Northwestern’s pitching staff.
Mike Brazel knows his squad will need a much cleaner performance against Peru than it had during the regular season.
“Peru puts the ball in play so if you’re not able to [locate pitches] and field it cleanly, it can make for a long night. They had 13 hits against us last time, but we also had two errors, issued six walks and hit three batters. And, we left 13 runners on base,” he said.
In the 10 a.m. semifinal, Eastern (12-13) meets Alexandria. In the 1 p.m. semifinal, Taylor (13-11) and Tipton (13-11) square off. The winners advance to the 7 p.m. final.
In the opening round, Eastern beat Elwood 5-3 in 10 innings for just its second postseason win since 1999.
Taylor and Tipton received opening-round byes. Taylor is led in hitting by Logan Barnes (.494, six homers, 29 RBI), Kyle Roe (.375) and Tyler Gatlin (.343, four homers, 21 RBI). Barnes anchors the pitching staff with a 5-2 record and 1.40 ERA. Cole Schroeder also has a 5-2 record, with a 2.10 ERA.
Taylor skipper Brent Owens is excited about his squad’s chances.
“I think we finally have started playing good baseball,” he said. “We started off 3-6 but we were 10-5 in our last 15 games. We had a lot of injuries early on. We have everyone healthy now. We’re definitely looking forward to getting started in sectionals and hopefully we can make a run in the state tournament.”
Taylor and Tipton were scheduled to meet during the regular season, but the game was rained out.
Owens said the sectional is up for grabs.
“I definitely think the field is wide open,” he said. “You have to think whoever plays the best on Monday is going to come out as the sectional champ.”
Around the area
In the Class 2A sectional at Wabash, Oak Hill and Wabash meet in the 11 a.m. semifinal Monday followed by Cass vs. defending Class 2A state champion and No. 1-ranked Northfield. The final is at 7:30 p.m.
In the Class 2A sectional at Delphi, No. 6-ranked Delphi and No. 9 Seeger meet in the 11 a.m. semifinal Monday followed by Sheridan vs. Carroll. The final is at 7 p.m.
And in the Class A sectional at Lafayette Catholic, Tri-Central and the host Knights meet in the 11 a.m. semifinal Monday followed by Frontier vs. Faith Christian. The final is at 7 p.m. Frontier is ranked No. 1 in Class A and Lafayette Catholic is No. 2. Catholic is the four-time defending Class A state champ.