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This Week in Sports - April 29-May 3, 2024

Articles courtesy of TOM KEEGAN 

April 30, 2024

Evening score with LaPorte sign of softball progress

Loyal to a fault to his returning players, Chesterton softball coach Dan Lynch started the season with just one full-time freshman on the roster.

The Trojans took their beatings early and finally, Lynch caved to the obvious: The lineup that was going to be most equipped to win games against stiff DAC competition was going to have to play its best players, regardless of their experience level in the program. In many cases, that meant trusting freshmen and they have rewarded that trust.

The outcome of two games against LaPorte showed just how much Chesterton has improved since Lynch juggled his lineup.

The Trojans defeated the Slicers 6-4 on April 24 at home and lost to the Slicers 9-2 on April 5 in LaPorte.

Sophomore Hannah Florian pitched well in both games, and was supported by far better defense and hitting in the victory than in the loss.

Five freshmen played in the win: Kylie Fieffer, Olivia Milton, Maddie Nichols, Jilliene Pittman, Ava Vagner.

“We have a number of freshmen and they’re doing extremely well,” said Lynch, who is retiring from teaching and coaching at season’s end. “They’re going to be good ballplayers over the next few years. I’ll be keeping track of them.”

Added Florian: “I think they’re really good. They’re really helping us.”

Florian expressed gratitude for the glove work of sophomore shortstop Lila Miller and Pittman, the third baseman. Milton helped by throwing out a runner from her catcher position for the final out of the sixth.

Florian pitched a strong game and was backed up by junior Aubree Bergner, who pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning to pick up the save.

The satisfaction over winning the rematch against the Slicers stretched back deeper than a few weeks for Florian.

“It felt good, and I used to go there in middle school, so I know most of the girls who are playing there as well,” Florian said. “It was definitely better than the first time we played them. The defense really made some great plays.”

The win was the fourth in five games for the Trojans, who started the season with a 3-11 record. Chesterton had nine hits, the Slicers four.

“We put the ball in play and put the ball in play hard,” Lynch said. “That’s what we always talk about we need to put the ball in play and make them make mistakes.”

The big win came a day after the Trojans routed Michigan City 16-1. Claire Demeter, Olivia Milton and Aubrey Ciupak had three hits apiece, Pittman drove in four runs and Ciupak drove in three against the Wolves.

The Trojans wrapped up the week at Hebron, where they lost 3-2 in a well played defensive game from both clubs.

Chesterton hasn’t always tightened up its baserunning as well as it has its defense and that haunted the Trojans in the one-run loss.

Alexia Franco drove in a pair of runs to give Chesterton the lead in the top of the second. Hebron cut the lead in half in the bottom of the inning and scored two runs in the third to take a 3-2 lead.

Vagner had an efficient pitching performance in four shutout innings of relief. She allowed one hit, hit one batter and struck out four.

A middle infielder when she’s not pitching, Vagner showcased her power with a home run over the fence in left-center in Chesterton’s 18-10 win over Valparaiso.

“I think we’ve all stepped up more than we were before,” Vagner said of the freshmen playing for the varsity. “We’ve gotten more comfortable now, so we’ve been playing how we’re used to playing.”

The Trojans still can play much better, Vagner said.

“I think we can be really good,” Vagner said. “We just don’t have a lot of energy sometimes. If we up the energy, I think we can be a lot better than what we are.”

The Trojans (7-13 overall, 4-4 in the DAC) resume their schedule Tuesday at Lake Central and then return home to face Crown Point on Wednesday.

Speedy Ava Kontos burning down the track

Every relay team needs not just a strong anchor, but at the very least a swift second-fastest runner as well. The Chesterton girls track team’s 4X100 relay has that in Ava Kontos.

She is off to an impressive start in the 100 and 200 meters and in running the first leg of the 4X100 anchored by Kenedi Bradley.

Kontos’ promising sophomore season ended with a bad break on the brink of the postseason.

“I was starting to do a lot better in the 100 and the 200, and then I broke my foot practicing handoffs,” Kontos said. “It was a bad handoff and I fell and broke my foot. I didn’t feel it in the moment, but the practice after and the meet after it hurt and I went to the doctor and it was a stress fracture.”

Kontos took two months off, returned to training, and has been moving faster ever since as the team’s best sprinter not named Kenedi Bradley. Kontos is to Bradley what distance runner Catherine White was to Bailey Ranta two years ago for the Trojans.

“I made sure I was on top of it because my sister (Danielle) broke her foot doing track and didn’t take care of it well and she was out for two years and had two surgeries,” Kontos said. “So I was off of it for two months, which was hard, but now it’s completely fine. I don’t have any pain anymore.”

Right off the bat, Kontos posted her best career times, running a 12.80 in the 100 and a 26.57 in the dual meet vs. Valpo and chased that with a 13.14 and a 27.01 in the double dual meet vs. Michigan City and Lake Central. The meet, originally scheduled for Michigan City, was moved to Chesterton the day of the meet in part because Michigan City did not have lights.

Kontos didn’t just wake up faster one day. She takes the sport seriously enough to train with Eric Griffin at Elite Performance in LaPorte during the summer.

“I’ve been going to that since eighth grade,” Kontos said. “It’s speed training and mechanics for the 100 and the 200. I can tell I get a lot better year to year.”

The 49.83 that Kontos, Artie Haney, Sydney Morris and Bradley ran is a long way from the school record of 48.50 run by Bailey Huddleston, Lena Raffin, Megan Erminger and Katie McColly in 2007.

It’s also too early to count the current sprinters out of breaking that record, especially since it’s a five-deep group and not one is a senior. Haney and Gretta Mc- Crovitz, who ran a particularly strong leg of the 4X100 in a double dual meet with Crown Point and LaPorte, are freshmen. Bradley’s sophomore, and Kontos and Morris are juniors.

Trojans baseball win streak hits 10

Chesterton won all four games it played last week, pushed its winning streak to 10 games and takes an 11-4 overall record and 6-2 DAC mark into this week’s series vs. perennial powerhouse Lake Central.

Two of the regions top pitchers, Indiana University recruit Griffin Tobias (2-0, 0.32 ERA, two walks, 37 strikeouts) of LC, a right-hander, vs. sophomore left-hander Troy Barrett (4-0, 24 scoreless innings, four walks, 48 strikeouts), are the probable starters in Tuesday’s series opener at Chesterton.

Chesterton enters the DAC series that concludes Wednesday at LC playing its best baseball of the season.

The 10-run mercy rule kicked in in three of last week’s four victories.

Chesterton 10, LaPorte 4, 5 innings: Little League ballplayers understandably grow uneasy at the sight of high school players watching them compete. They should know that the feeling is mutual.

After extending his consecutive scoreless innings streak to 24 and his shutout streak to four in a 10-0, five-inning trouncing at home of LaPorte, Troy Barrett revealed he had to overcome some jitters on State Park Little League Day and they had nothing to do with any of his streaks.

Sophomore Troy Barrett works his way to his fourth consecutive shutout, stretching his consecutive scoreless innings streak to 24 with 48 strikeouts. RICH HAWKSWORTH/photo
Sophomore Troy Barrett works his way to his fourth consecutive shutout, stretching his consecutive scoreless innings streak to 24 with 48 strikeouts. RICH HAWKSWORTH/photo

“I was a little nervous because of State Park and all the kids here, so I wanted to do well for them,” the younger Barrett said. “I eased into it and started to do better.”

Backed by an offense that sent 12 batters to the plate in the six-run first inning and multiple web gems from his brother, senior shortstop Brayden, Troy tossed a five-inning shutout, allowed three hits, walked one and struck out seven.

All nine batters in the Trojans’ lineup had at lease one hit. Nick Foust (.333, 14 RBI) had three hits and drove in two runs. Brayden Barrett doubled in two runs and Brady McCormack had the day’s biggest hit, a three-run double to the gap in leftcenter with one out in the first.

“Brayden sure made some amazing plays,” first-year Chesterton coach John Bogner said. “It was a good day for us. It was great to have 55, 60 Little Leaguers watch our guys perform like that. It sets the expectation you’ve got to be pretty good to play here.”

The outcome extended the winning streak for the Trojans to seven games and had more significance than the previous six that were outscored 75-3 because it came against better competition.

“Put it all together today,” Bogner said. “Came out a little hungry. That’s the kind of baseball we should be playing. That’s the kind of stuff that will keep me happy. I told our guys they should be absolute animals in the box. Troy’s absolutely great on the mound. He makes it easy on our defense.”

Chesterton only struck out once, “against some pretty good pitchers,” Bogner noted.

Based on the importance they placed on the game because it was State Park Little League Day, it’s obvious that the players don’t take for granted the foundation those years laid for their baseball development.

Troy said he highlight of his “four or five years” playing at State Park was when he was moved up in age and able to team with his brother.

“I was a catcher then,” Troy said. “I was a catcher until I was about 13.”

The three innings Benny Distefano caught for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 18, 1989 marked the last time a left-handed thrower caught in a Major League game.

Catching pitchers with differing movements on their pitches led Troy to tinker with the grip on baseballs to make them move in different directions.

The late movement on his fastball, which tails away from right-handed hitters, coupled with the pinpoint location of his pitches, have coupled to give him an average against of .076.

Watching Barrett nibble at the outside corner calls to mind watching Atlanta Braves Hall of Famer. Then, when the hitters cheat toward the outside, he comes inside hard and his fastball rides the black of the plate, triggering the “steeerike!” call, which so often is pronounced “hut!” by umpires.

Brayden Barrett said he didn’t doubt that his brother’s success would translate to DAC competiton.

“I knew he had it in him,” Brayden said. “His previous starts, he was throwing strikes and obviously if you throw strikes, that’s a lot of it. He threw strikes again today and he’s got the stuff to get it by better hitters.”

And he has an advantage Brayden doesn’t bring to the mound with him when he pitches the Wednesday games: He has Brayden Barrett at short.

Brayden leads off for the Trojans and is one of the team’s most accomplished hitters, but the arm he used to throw lasers to first for close outs Tuesday, has more power in it than his productive bat. That makes his favorite State Park memory all the more special.

“That was the last time I hit a home run out of the park,” he said of when he was playing for the White Sox. “I was probably 11 or so, so it’s been a while.”

Troy Barrett, who plays in the outfield on the days his arm is rested and he’s not using it to pitch. He batted ninth in the opener vs. LaPorte and drove a two-run double to right-center to plate the final two runs of the first.

“He put me down there as like a second leadoff hitter, so I can get on base for the top of the order,” Troy said. “I take it as a compliment, actually. I don’t dislike it.”

On this day, the Trojans had that circular lineup every team craves. The bottom three hitters, catcher Hunter Leach-Griffin, designated hitter Caden Hackett and Troy Barrett combined to go 5 for 10 with two doubles and five RBI.

“That’s the kind of day we should have a lot more of,” Bogner said after the first game. “I told them get the word split out of their vocabulary. What do you want to do aim to be .500 for the season? Aim to win every win and do all you can for it.”

Chesterton 6, LaPorte 4, 10 innings: The Trojans pushed their winning streak to eight games, but it took twice as many innings as in the previous day’s game.

Mixing hard fastball’s with well-placed breaking balls, Brayden Barrett took a 4-1 lead into the seventh inning.

Then things broke down defensively for the Trojans. Hackett, who alternates at catcher and DH with Leach-Griffin, dropped a third strike, tried to tag the hitter, Drew Catron, waited to hear a call from the umpire and allowed the runner to reach first base without making a throw. Kai Jones followed with a run-scoring single that scored one run and put runners on the corners.

At that point, Czarniecki came in from center field to take over on the mound and Brayden Barrett moved to short. Gage Raymond’s run-scoring single to right trimmed the deficit to two runs.

John Bogner trusted Czarniecki to throw strikes and loaded the bases with an intentional walk, setting up an out at any base. Czarniecki induced a groundball that had the potential to be an inning-ending double play, but second baseman Greg Guernsey booted it and the score was tied. Czarniecki escaped with a strikeout.

Chesterton completed the sweep with two runs in the 10th inning and overpowering pitching from Czarniecki (eight strikeouts).

Two of the players involved in extending the game with defensive mishaps in the seventh played a huge rule in the 10th-inning rally.

Guernsey, swinging a hot bat of late, led off with a single to right.

Hackett, in the midst of an impressive season that belies his freshman status, moved Guernsey into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. Hunter Leach-Griffin followed with a game-winning single to center and the Trojans scored an insurance run with the Barrett brothers hitting back-toback singles.

Hackett has learned how to bunt in short order.

“I work on it in practice,” Hackett said. “High school was the first time I ever bunted in a game. Travel I never bunted. That was my second bunt ever.”

The work paid off in a big way.

“You know what we call guys who can’t bunt?” Bogner asked? “Golfers. You better be able to bunt. If you’re my 2 hitter all the way to my 12th, 15th hitter, you better be able to bunt.”

Chesterton 10, Elkhart 0, 5 innings: The Trojans stayed hot in the three-way day at Northridge High, where three schools played a round-robin.

Czarniecki hit his fourth home run, drove in five runs and pitched a two-hit shutout. He walked two batters and struck out five to improve his record to 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA. Hitters are batting .127 against him and he has 11 walks and 28 strikeouts in 16-1/3 innings.

Chesterton scored in every inning and had multiple runs in four innings.

Chesterton 19, Northridge 2, 5 innings: The Trojans scored nine runs in the third and six in the fifth in their second game of the day at the three-way

Jason Bogner (2-0) picked up the win with three shout innings and was followed to the mound by Kaden Hawksworth and Caysen Bontrager. Bogner also went 1 for 2, drove in two runs and walked twice.

Czarniecki started the third-inning explosion by slamming his fifth home run into the woods behind the left field fence. Czarniecki is batting .472 with 19 runs and 22 RBI and leads the team in runs, hits, RBI, doubles (seven), triples (two) and home runs and ranks second in stolen bases with four to Brayden Barrett (six) and second in batting average to Troy Barrett (.500).

In the two games at Northridge, Brayden Barrett went 5 for 8 with five runs and 5 RBI to earn Hard Hat Player of the Day honors.