PREP BASEBALL: Concord aces regional test, champions for first time since 1995

Jun. 1—NAPPANEE — Concord likes to play the short game, but it was the long ball in big spots that did the trick Saturday.

Minutemen head coach Greg Hughes was all for the seven-inning thriller.

"My emotions and theirs were all over the place," Hughes said, following an 11-9 win over Mishawaka at the NorthWood Field of Dreams Complex in Nappanee.

"We're up, then we're down and then we're back up; that's one of the best ballgames that I've been a part of," Hughes continued.

Concord (20-10) sparred well with the normally-potent Cavemen lineup, totaling 11 hits to Mishawaka's 12. The Cavemen (15-15) were looking for the win in the rubber match between the two teams, losing 4-0 in April and winning 10-7 in May.

The game was scheduled to play at South Bend Clay's grass field but with rain in the forecast, NorthWood stepped in to help host at the turf complex.

Sophomore Joey Hauger played a big part in the win, pitching four innings of relief after entering a bumpy fourth inning. After allowing four in the frame, he shut down the Mishawaka lineup the rest of the way, retiring the final two batters who represented the tying run.

"He showed a lot of grit there," Hughes said of his sophomore. "He got hit pretty hard that first inning. He started hitting locations again. He's just mentally tough. He doesn't let things get to him and he came out and started doing what he's supposed to do."

Hauger (4 innings pitched, 5 hits, 4 unearned runs, 3 strikeouts) shared some additional thoughts.

"I had complete trust in my defense and Emmanuel [Rosa] made a great play over at shortstop and that gave me confidence in my defense," he said.

Usually a starter and rarely coming out of the bullpen, the same pitcher that secured a shutout win for the sectional title April 27, returned to pitch the Minutemen to a regional title, the third in program history and first in 29 years.

Trailing 3-0 in the fourth inning and being no-hit by Mishawaka starter Brady Gallo, Concord scored six runs in a big way, forcing the Cavemen to run through a trio of hurlers in the frame.

A single by Alex Kridler (2-for-4) plated the first two runs on a base-loaded single to center field with nobody out. Then, with one out sophomore Lukas Ulfig (1-for-3) unloaded on a fastball, carrying over the wall to score three. It was his first home run of the season.

"I just woke up and felt really good and it was a good pitch, right over and on the inside right where I like it and [I] turned on it and it just sailed; I think the wind carried it a bit well too," Ulfig said.

A sixth run was scored when senior one-hole hitter Braeden Messenger (2-for-5) tripled, scoring Andrew Kavanaugh and finishing off a four-hit, six-run inning.

As momentum swing to the Kelly Green-clad Minutemen, Mishawaka responded back.

Back-to-back singles sent Messenger to the dugout after throwing three-plus innings and in came Hauger for the difficult job of cleaning up the bags and holding the 6-3 lead. Indecision from the sophomore committed Concord's second error of the ballgame and loaded the bags before a single, sacrifice fly and three-run double plated six for the Cavemen, taking a 9-6 lead into the fifth.

With 12 batters coming to the plate in the fourth, Concord sent up seven in the next frame. A one-out triple by Garrett Stewart set the gears in motion, allowing him to score on a fielder's choice.

As third and first base were occupied with two outs, Messenger lined a single back to the mound, nearing catching the Cavemen pitcher in the forehead. The shot reached the outfield, scoring two runs after the senior battled a nine-pitch at-bat to tie the game at 9-9.

Hauger pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning, giving the ball back to his offense to go to work. A ground-rule double by Emmanuel Rosa scored Noah Norwood — also reaching on a two-bagger — and Concord plated another via a sac fly from Stewart. Up 11-9, Hauger continued to shine, throwing his way to a victory.

"That's the hardest we've hit the ball all year," Hughes said. "We drove the ball good. We knew Mishawaka would hit the ball, we're usually kind of a base-hit type team but our bats kind of came ready today."

With a large sign at Concord's baseball field reminding the group of it's last regional title, the team took a few extra looks before Saturday's game.

"I think we all was hunting it down, we all wanted it and we came out here and proved it today," Ulfig said. "I think our bats really carried us through this game."

After coaching a young group to a 6-21 record in 2023, Hughes continues to praise his group for the turnaround — especially his seniors at the top.

"It means a lot to these kids," Hughes said. "These seniors, they've been grinding for all four years and put in the work and they're seeing it now and I'm proud of them."

And for what the win meant to the players themselves.

"It means we're coming again, we're not done yet," Ulfig said. "We got semistate and state to win too and we're going to do it for our family. We're a family out here and it's just a great experience to be out here with our guys."

Concord's opponent next Saturday is already set. With an 8-4 win, Homestead (20-10) will face the Minutemen at a location and time still to be named. The winner of that game will advance to the semistate championship later that day.

Concord has never won a semistate title.


SOUTH BEND CLAY REGIONAL — Changed to NorthWood High School

Concord def. Mishawaka 11-9

Reach Matt Lucas at 574-533-2151, ext. 240325, or at