The Valparaiso High School baseball team had to take a tough road, but on Monday the Vikings emerged as the Indiana High School Athletic Association Sectional 2 champions after outslugging Portage 18-8 in the final game.
The wind was blowing out on a warm Memorial Day at Merrillville High School and the Valpo hitters took full advantage. The Vikings took an early three run lead on a two-run home run by John Olejniczak in the first and run scoring single by CJ Gear in the second. The Indians responded by scoring five times in the bottom of the second on a grand slam by Andrew Brown to take a 5-3 lead. However, the Vikings’ confidence never wavered.
“I told them then, ‘It’s 5-3, it’s okay. It’s like being down 2-0, who cares at this point? There are a lot of innings left and we’ve got a lot of guys coming to the plate. Let’s not panic or change our swings, and let’s just let the rest happen,” Valpo head coach Dave Coyle said.
After going deep in the first, Olejniczak was at the heart of his team’s next rally as well. He drove in two in the top of the fourth to give the Vikings a 6-5 lead. In the top of the fifth with the game tied 6-6 the Vikings suddenly broke it open by scoring seven times in the frame. Valpo scored seven runs on seven hits and two errors in the inning to take a 13-6 edge.
Joe Gallinatti put the exclamation mark on the Valparaiso day by homering in the top of the sixth to extend the lead to ten at 18-8. The Indians went down quickly in the bottom of the inning to give the Vikings the win by the ten run rule. This is the first sectional championship for VHS since 2002.
“It’s like a dream right now,” Coyle said. “To graduate eight seniors, to have so many of these kids fight and work so hard and have a vision and a dream and continue to buy into that vision and dream. I think you’ll find that this team has one or two players that no doubt in my mind stand out, but for these kids to be able to succeed that way they have played as a unit.”
The Vikings played the role of underdog throughout the Merrillville Sectional. They had to get through the top three teams in the sectional, upsetting Chesterton in the opening round, Crown Point on Friday night and Portage on Monday. The Indians had won both regular season meetings between the two teams. Valparaiso downed the Trojans 9-3 last Wednesday before needing extra-innings to bounce the defending champion Bulldogs 7-6.
“I’ve always believed, if you’re going to win, let’s play the best right away, so when you do get out, you’ve earned it, and by God these kids have earned it,” Coyle said.
The VHS baseball team advances to the LaPorte Regional to meet the winner of the South Bend Clay Sectional on Saturday morning. Since the team’s offensive has been scoring at will, Coyle believes that Valparaiso must focus on the other side of the ball in order to be successful in the next round.
“I think it’s going to come down to pitching and defense,” he said. “The hitting will come through and hopefully everything comes together.”