FOUNTAIN CITY, Ind.
Randy Kerns doesn’t make the trip back home often, but the National Trail High School and Earlham College graduate wanted to make the most of his most recent visit to Wayne County.
Now the head baseball coach at Mississinewa High School in Gas City, Ind., Kerns led his team past Northeastern 5-2 in the championship game of the Knights Invitational on Saturday.
Northeastern defeated Seton Catholic 4-1 in the tournament’s first game, before Mississinewa defeated Mississinawa Valley (Ohio) 10-3. Seton won the consolation game 16-8.
Kerns, a 2005 Trail graduate, went on to play football and baseball for the Quakers. He played with Seton Catholic first-year coach Jake Carr, who graduated from Richmond in 2006 and Earlham in 2010.
“It was great to see him. I saw the Carrs (Frank Carr, Kevin Carr and Jake Carr, all on Seton’s staff) over there, (and) I told them they should put a ‘C’ on their hats instead of an ‘S.’ Team Carr over there,” Kerns said. “Great people. It was great to be back.”
Kerns started his coaching career as a student-teacher for the Knights’ football and baseball teams and returned to Fountain City for the Knights’ invite.
“It was great to be back in the area and see everybody,” he said. “I used to work here (at Northeastern) for a little bit, see the family get down and see us — that’s why we really wanted this. The kids knew I really wanted this, being from the area.”
It took patience, timely hitting and a gutsy coaching move by the former Blazer and Quaker.
Northeastern (11-4) scored a run in each of the first two innings and Kerns quickly went to the bullpen, replacing starting pitcher Matt Burdette, a sophomore, with Garrison Smith, a freshman, who Kerns said had not seen much action this season.
Smith entered the game with runners on second and third and two outs. He struck out Conner Silvers and did not allow a run the rest of the game.
Smith struck out four, scattering four hits from Northeastern’s potent lineup.
“He’s only had a couple outings, and we’ve not played good defense behind him, but he’s got hit around,” Kerns said. ” … He came out real confident, and being in a championship game, we had a couple arms we could use. I didn’t want to take a lot of time and Matt said he was feeling a little something in his arm, so I said, ‘Garrison, go see what you’ve got.'”
But Silvers was matching him with strong Knights defense behind him.
Center fielder Craig Dingwerth made a nice basket catch early in the game, then gunned a runner out at the plate to end the third inning. Second baseman Skyler Ashcraft had a nice diving play on a hard-hit, RBI groundout in the sixth.
“We played solid defense, (but) we just didn’t get it done at the plate,” first-year Northeastern coach Steve Bray said. “We didn’t swing the bats very well. That’s what hurt us. … We played very well defensively, and obviously, that’s a 5-2 ballgame, but our pitching played well enough, too, to win a ballgame.”
Kessler Fisher led off the game with a triple and scored on an RBI infield single by Garrett Dill. Del Caudill doubled in the second and scored on an errant throw by Mississinewa’s catcher.
The Knights led 2-0 until Mississinewa pushed three runs across in the fifth. Alex Morrison hit a game-tying, two-run, ground-rule double with the bases loaded, and Cory Markley drove him in on the groundout to Ashcraft.
“I knew we could hit. They’ve got some good arms on that team (Northeastern), but I knew we would eventually get to it,” Kerns said. “We’ve hit usually pretty well all year, so I was glad we stayed in it. In the past, we’ve made a couple errors and probably gotten beat up pretty good, but I was proud of our guys. We hung in there.”
Dill had three hits in the championship game and two more against Seton (9-5). Fisher, Silvers, Dingwerth and Caudill also had hits against the Indians (9-11), while Ashcraft tripled and Dingwerth doubled against Seton.
Fisher picked up the win in relief against Seton, pitching 31⁄3 scoreless innings, striking out four, while Dingwerth picked up a save.
“We just didn’t get the job done at the plate,” Bray said. “We came out flat and stayed flat the whole game. Scored two runs the whole game and they thought that was going to be enough, but it wasn’t.”