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De La Salle leans on sophomores, defeats Traverse City West, 3-1, to reach state final

By: Tom Markowski, June 16, 2016, 8:28 pm


East Lansing – Warren De La Salle coach Matt Cook said his team had to go through some growing pains this season. The Pilots have eight sophomores including their top three pitchers and a centerfielder who had the key hit in Thursday’s Division 1 semifinal plus an outstanding catch in the seventh inning.

Consider the growing pains over. De La Salle’s Kiddie Corps will play for a state title on Saturday.

Nino Puckett was effectively wild through six-plus innings and Easton Sikorski came in to retire the final three batters as De La Salle defeated Traverse City West (41-3), 3-1, at McLane Stadium on the Michigan State campus.

De La Salle (27-13), which finished in a tie for third place in the Catholic League Central Division, will play Saline (35-6) for the championship on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

Saline has never won a title. De La Salle won titles in 2000 and ’09.

Jacob Badalamenti’s two-run single in the top of the fourth inning gave the Pilots a 2-1 lead. Mike Kostuch provided an insurance run with an RBI single in the sixth and that’s all De La Salle would need.

“It feels great,” Badalamenti said. “Last year I was playing on the freshmen team and now I’m in this position. It means a lot. You have to do it for the seniors. This is their last year playing for the Pilots.”

Badalamenti has started every game in center and he said he and his teammates had to learn how to play with one another before they could obtain success.

“We know what we have to do,” he said. “We have to mature. We have to mature on and off the field. You can’t be fighting with each other. We weren’t really fighting. We just had some arguments in practice.”

Puckett (5-5) was 2-5 before the tournament and all five losses came within the league season. Cook said his right-hander pitched well in defeat and kept his composure.

“Nino battled today,” Cook said. “He walked a few guys (five). To be a pitcher in this situation…he’s calm, cool and collective. We had a short leash on him today.”

Puckett threw 112 pitches.

Sikorski came in with a runner on first and no outs, and the first batter he faced hit a hard line drive to center. Badalamenti raced in and made a diving catch a foot off the ground. Sikorski retired the next two batters without incident.

“I got a good jump on it,” Badalamenti said. “I had no doubt I would catch it. I had to use my speed and I dove for it.”