GREENWOOD — Red-hot pitching propelled the Silver Creek Little League baseball team to its first state title on a scorching Saturday.
Impressive performances on the mound from Preston Burton and Spencer Durham, along with timely hitting and solid defense, led Silver Creek to a pair of triumphs at Greenwood Little League, where temperatures were in the 90s and shade was hard to come by. Creek outlasted Forest Park 2-1 in the morning semifinals, then beat Brownsburg 6-0 in the final to avenge an earlier loss and clinch its first state championship in Little League major baseball.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Silver Creek manager Damon Lewis said. “I’m going to be on this high for awhile. If you would’ve told me that we could beat a team as good as Brownsburg 6-0 [I wouldn’t have believed you]. But our kids are just so resilient and tough-minded. They just go out and play harder than anybody I’ve ever seen.”
Silver Creek will next play in the Great Lakes Regional at Grand Park in Westfield, where it will face the state champion from Ohio at 10 a.m. Aug. 4 in the first game. The winner of the region advances to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
“It’s obviously really exciting that we get to go represent Indiana and to be able to say that we’re the best team in Indiana this year,” Burton said. “We’re going to go win [the regional] and go on to the Little League World Series.”
In Saturday morning’s semifinal win over Forest Park, Silver Creek rode the right arm of Burton to victory. He tossed a complete-game one-hitter while striking out 16 — including the first eight and five of the final six.
“He’s fantastic,” Lewis said of Burton. “I really feel like he’s the best pitcher in the state at this age. He’s fiery out there, he’s passionate. He expects perfection out of himself and he expects our guys to rise to the occasion too. A lot of times they do.”
Burton also helped his own cause before even taking the mound, hitting a solo home run — his third homer in three games — in the top of the first inning.
“I’ve played against [Forest Park starting pitcher Tyler Fetter] in travel ball before so I knew what he was going to do,” Burton said. “I saw the first pitch he threw low and I knew it wasn’t that hard. Once I got up there I just knew I had to barrel it up.”
Silver Creek increased its lead in the fourth, when it loaded the bases via a pair of walks (to Evan Trester and Preston Kernen) and an error (which allowed Bryce Kernen to reach). With two outs, a Fetter pitch to Ross Jackson got away from the Forest Park catcher, allowing Trestor to score.
“I give a lot of credit to Ross Jackson,” Lewis said. “He’s a great hitter, but he’s been struggling at the plate a little bit here recently. Him battling in that count allowed that run to come in, because if he hadn’t got that deep in the count that ball wouldn’t have got away from that catcher and we ended up scoring that run, which turned out to be the winning run.”
Forest Park scored its lone run in the bottom of the inning thanks to a pair of Silver Creek errors.
Forest Park had one final chance in the sixth, but Burton — nearing the maximum pitch count of 85 — struck out Fetter to end the game.
“It was right down to the last batter — we were sitting over there talking about who we were going to bring in — their best hitter coming up to the plate in a 2-1 game, our best pitcher still on the mound and his last pitch coming up. You couldn’t have drawn it up any better. A lot of drama.”
While there was plenty of drama in the pool-play meeting between Brownsburg and Silver Creek (Brownsburg won 2-0 on Colin McNeer’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the sixth), there was little in the final. A fast Silver Creek start saw to that.
Jackson led off the game with a single before Burton doubled him home. After Burton advanced to third on Cullen Garloch’s fly out, he scored on Carter Odaffer’s single.
“Early in the tournament we didn’t really put the bat on the ball, and today we did that,” Burton said.
Two batters later, Jackson Lewis singled up the middle to bring in Odaffer, who beat the throw home, to make it 3-0.
“We don’t mind being visitor,” Lewis said. “Of course there’s going to be some games where you want to be the last batter, but if we get that little cushion for our pitcher and help him relax a little bit, [let him] just play his game, that’s just huge. Every time we can get a couple runs on the board early it’s huge.”
Silver Creek increased its lead in the fourth. After Trester walked, Jackson and Burton singled to load the bases. After Garloch struck out, Lewis made a last-second decision to bring in Riley Spiehs as a pinch-hitter. Spiehs delivered with a two-RBI single up the middle to make it 5-0.
“We had some big hits — Riley Spiehs coming up with that two-RBI single,” Lewis said. “We know these kids can hit in practice. When you put them in a spot where they can come through like that and they do, you just feel so good for them and for the parents, because they put so much time and effort into it.”
Silver Creek tacked on another run in the fifth.
That was more than enough for Durham, who allowed two hits — none to McNeer, who won the tourney’s home-run derby by hitting 20 homers on 25 pitches — while walking one and striking out four in a complete-game effort.
“He’s just a big-game pitcher, nothing really rattles him,” Lewis said of Durham. “He’s just such an easy-going, confident kid and he’s a hard thrower. He’s deceptive because of his size, he’s not a big kid, but he throws hard.”
“We played our hearts out for this,” Durham added.
And now Silver Creek will play in the Great Lakes Regional.
“We’re so proud to represent the state of Indiana,” Lewis said. “There’s so many good baseball teams in the state. Every team in this tournament was a good team. It took a couple of Herculean efforts to pull out two wins against these two teams.
“We’re going to enjoy [the regional], we’re going to soak it all in. Hopefully the moment won’t be too big for them, I don’t think it will. They’ve all played in big games, they’ve all pitched in big games, they’ve all hit in big games. I know some of the boys that play travel [ball] occasionally have played in that park up there, so it’s not going to be too big for them. I hope the cameras and all that kind of stuff, the ESPN stuff, doesn’t distract them too much, but I don’t think it will. I just want them to have fun from here on out, no matter what happens. No one’s ever going to be able to take away state champs from them.”