Warsaw junior Kevin Hawley releases a pitch to the plate during Tuesday evening's season opener against Crown Point. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union
Warsaw junior Kevin Hawley releases a pitch to the plate during Tuesday evening's season opener against Crown Point. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union
Getting the season started Tuesday evening at home, Warsaw baseball coach Mike Hepler didn’t get the win, but did like what he saw.
Losing the opener 9-8 to Crown Point, the Tigers showed fight, rallying from a 2-0 hole and a 5-3 deficit, before running out of time.
“The thing I’m most proud of is that we competed,” Hepler said. “We competed and someone has to win and someone has to lose. Unfortunately, we came out on the losing end.”
A big reason for the loss was Crown Point’s Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters, who combined to go 8 for 10 with two home runs, two doubles and five RBIs.
The talent of the trio came through from the beginning.
After getting two quick outs, Warsaw junior pitcher Kevin Hawley thought he had struck out Tyler Downing, walking toward the dugout before the umpire called a ball, leading to a full count.
On the next pitch, Downing lifted the ball into a strong wind that was blowing straight to center field, legging out a double, then adding another base thanks to an error.
Next up was Mitchell Kooi, who also lifted a ball up into the wind, but his cleared the fence, putting his team up 2-0.
“They’re good hitters and when you give them a second chance like that, they’re going to take advantage of it,” Hepler said. “That’s what they did. I’m proud of our guys for bouncing back. We didn’t let that bother us.”
Warsaw did bounce back in the bottom of the second, with seniors Peter Shepherd and Caleb Heckaman drawing back-to-back one-out walks.
Following a fielder’s choice off the bat of senior Dean Katris, Warsaw had runners at first and second, and senior Justin Oberlin scored Heckaman with a single.
With Katris now at third and Oberlin at second,  junior Ethyn Bradley plated both with a two-run single, giving Warsaw a 3-2 lead.
However, just as fast as Warsaw took the lead, Crown Point’s big hitters were back up in the top of the third.
Following a leadoff out, Downing got things going with a one-out single, which was followed by a single from Kooi.
With both on base, Andrew Atchison then blasted a three-run homer over the left-field fence, landing just inside the foul pole, putting Crown Point back in front 5-3.
Warsaw’s most productive inning came in the bottom of the third, as Crown Point turned the ball over to Jake Vinovich.
Facing the new pitcher, Warsaw pounded out four runs, highlighted by RBI doubles from Caleb Moneyheffer and Oberlin, and retook the lead at 7-5.
After starting pitcher Hawley got a 1-2-3 inning in the fourth, it appeared Warsaw would blow things open in the bottom of the frame.
A leadoff double from junior Tyler LaFollette chased Vinovich out of the game and brought Jake Kocher in for the Bulldogs.
Against his first two batters, he first walked Moneyheffer then gave up a single to senior James Brandes, loading the bases with no one out.
In a tough situation, Kocher got a mound visit and settled down, getting a strikeout, then avoiding danger with a pop out and ground out.
“I felt like we could have had better at-bats right there and put a little more pressure on them,” Hepler said. “In key situations, we just didn’t get the job done.”
Failing to add to its lead, Warsaw then found itself trailing 8-7 after Crown Point got three runs in the top of the fifth.
The Tigers knotted the score again in the bottom of the fifth, with LaFollette scoring Bradley on a groundout, but Crown Point got the win by scoring a run of its own in the top of the sixth.
In the end, Warsaw left 10 runners on base, five of which were on in scoring position and three were stranded at third.
On top of struggling to get the runners in, Warsaw also committed five errors.
“Defensively, we were just not sharp today,” Hepler said. “That’s to be expected early on. We try to do what we can outside, but you can only do so much in a simulated game. We just had some struggles. We had some dropped balls and plays that needed to be made and that weren’t.”
Because of the late winter, one would expect a lot of fielding errors as players get acclimated to the outdoors, but Hepler’s gotten his team out more than some other squads in the area.
“We’ve been out four or five times,” he said. “Our field has been great. This is actually (Crown Point’s) first time out on a diamond. So, we’re ahead of them practice-wise. We just didn’t make enough plays today.”
The plays may not have been there, but Hepler was pleased with his pitchers, as Hawley went 4-2/3 innings, followed by Heckaman for 1-1/3 innings and LaFollette got the last three outs.
“They did well, they were just victimized a little bit by our defense,” Hepler said. “But that’s going to improve.”
Offensively, Oberlin was 2 for 4 from his leadoff spot, recording two RBIs and a double, while Bradley went 2 for 4 with two RBIs and Lafollette was 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI.
If the weather cooperates, Warsaw’s next game will be Thursday against South Bend Clay at Coveleski Stadium, the home of the South Bend Silver Hawks.
“We’re going to have to go up there with the mindset of, ‘Yeah, it’s not going to be a pleasant weather day,’” Hepler said. “I think they’re calling for some rain early in the day, but it’s supposed to clear up later and hopefully by game time we’ll be able to play and come out with a win.”

CROWN POINT 9, WARSAW 8
CP    203    031    0    –    9    11    3
W    034    010    0    –    8    10    5
CP – Jon Dietrich (ND, 2IP, 3R, 2ER, 2H, 4K, 2BB), Jake Vinovich (3, 1IP, 4R, 3ER, 4H, 2K, 1BB), Jake Kocher (4, W, 4IP, 1R, 1ER, 3H, 3K, 1BB) and Andrew Atchison.
Warsaw – Kevin Hawley (ND, 4-2/3IP, 8R, 7ER, 9H, 1K, 1BB, 2HR), Caleb Heckaman (5, L, 1-1/3IP, 1R, 0ER, 2H, 0K, 0BB), Tyler LaFollette (7, 1IP, 0R, 0H, 0K, 1BB) and Peter Shepherd.
2B – Austin Thomas (CP) 2, Thayne Bukowski (CP), Tyler Downing (CP), Atchison (CP), Justin Oberlin (W), Brandon Shipp (W), LaFollette (W), Caleb Moneyheffer (W)
HR – Mitchell Kooi (CP), Atchison (CP).
Records: CP 1-0, Warsaw 0-1.