Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
TIPTON – As a junior in a lineup loaded with underclassmen Brady Lukavsky has become a leader for the West Branch baseball team.
On Saturday Lukavsky led the Bears to their biggest win during his three years as a starter.
Lukavsky snapped a 3-3 tie with a two-run triple in the seventh inning to lift West Branch to a 6-3 win over Cedar County rival Tipton in a Class 2A, District 8 semifinal in Tipton.
“He definitely is a leader for us and we want him up in those big situations, we know he is going to hit it hard,” West Branch sophomore Matt Paulsen said of Lukavsky. “We are confident when he’s at the plate in those situations.”
Lukavsky gave West Branch a 1-0 lead one batter into the game when he tripled down the right field line and was awarded home when the throw to third ended up in the Bear dugout.
West Branch wouldn’t lead again until the seventh inning when Lukavsky lined a 2-2 offering from Logan Hoffman off the center field fence for his second triple of the game that gave the Bears a 5-3 lead they wouldn’t let get away.
“I was trying to put it in play because we were down and we had runners on and no outs so I didn’t want to try to do anything special,” Lukavsky said. “I had two strikes on me so I went to my two-strike swing and just put in play.”
The win was the fourth in five games for West Branch (11-14) and third over Tipton (11-15) in less than a week.
West Branch swept the Tigers in a conference doubleheader on Tuesday by scores of 9-3 and 12-4 and will face West Liberty (10-15) in the District 8 semifinals on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Wilton.
“It feels good to know that you are still playing,” Lukavsky said. “We don’t want it to end. I love baseball and playing it and I don’t want to give it up yet.”
Paulsen tossed 6 2/3 strong innings to earn the win as West Branch won its first playoff games since 2014.
The sophomore right-hander struck out 11 and allowed seven hits while improving to 4-2 on the season.
“It’s been a while since we won a district game, so it feels good,” Paulsen said. “It feels really good and we aren’t finished yet either.”
The two River Valley Conference rivals went back and forth for seven innings on Saturday.
Lukavsky gave West Branch an early lead but Tipton answered with single runs in the first and second innings.
West Branch pulled even in the third when Paulsen singled with two outs and Tanner Lukavsky smacked an RBI triple to tie the game at 2-2.
Tipton took the lead again with a run in the fifth but West Branch pulled even in the sixth on a two-out RBI single by Pete Espensen.
“We battled and that was a big thing,” West Branch coach Rick Stout said. “We got in some tough situations and we found a way to get out of some innings and just kept scrapping.”
It stayed tied until the seventh.
Jaden Hierseman led off the inning with a single and Matt Whaley drew a walk.
Brady Lukavsky followed with the biggest hit of his career, a line drive over the top of the glove of Ben Emrich in center field.
“That was a huge hit by Brady,” Stout said. “We have a few juniors that have started three years of varsity for us and they are very experienced and he is one of those guys. He hit that ball well and he did a great job. He’s one of our leaders for sure.”
Tipton made a final push in the bottom of the inning as the first two Tigers reached base.
However, Paulsen struck out Hoffman and Nike Schuett before giving way to Tanner Lukavsky who fanned Kael Jauron to end the game.
“They told me I had about 15 pitches to get through that last inning and I wasted a few early,” Paulsen said. “I definitely trust Tanner to come in and get that last out.”
West Branch will face a West Liberty team that swept the Bears in a RVC doubleheader back on June 11.
West Liberty won 5-3 and 1-0 in that doubleheader.
“West Liberty beat us twice, they have a great team but we are going to give it our best shot on Tuesday night,” Stout said. “I like what our guys are doing at the end of the season.”
West Branch 101 001 3 – 6 9 3
Tipton 110 010 0 – 3 7 3
W – Matt Paulsen L – Logan Hoffmann SV – Tanner Lukavsky
3B – WB: Brady Lukavsky (2), Tanner Lukavsky