The hits keep comin’ for New Prairie

March 29, 2019

MICHIGAN CITY -- OK, so Gavin Kelly probably isn’t going to hit .858 and New Prairie likely won’t average 15 runs a game all spring.

Just in case they don’t, the left-handed outfielder and the rest of the Cougars are going to enjoy the hit parade.

“We’re swinging the bat really well,” coach Mark Schellinger said after a 16-10 slugfest against Michigan City that ended with the onset of nightfall Wednesday. “On top of that, we’ve got a pretty good approach right now. Guys are getting hitter’s counts and when they do, it’s paying off for them. We knew we had a lot of guys who can swing, no doubt about it. A lot of guys put in work on their own time, not just swings, in the weight room, and it’s showing. We had guys came back stronger. They’re really buying into the approach. We’re getting our pitch and when we do, we do damage.”

Notably Kelly, an unexpected power source at 5-foot-8, 145 pounds. After finishing 3-for-3 in Tuesday’s 14-0 rout of LaPorte, he stayed planet Mercury hot against City (0-1) with three extra-base hits and six RBIs.

“I’ve got a good approach right now at the plate. I’m enjoying what I’m doing,” Kelly said. “It’s a lot of pressure being that successful. You don’t want to mess it up. It’s just having the right mindset and having fun with what you’re doing. I’m definitely seeing the ball real well. Everything’s just coming together. The work in the off-season, now that we’re out on the field, it’s showing for a lot of us.”

Kelly and Roman Kuntz each tripled and scored in a three-run New Prairie third. Kelly yanked a three-run home run to right in the fifth and capped a fantasy hitting day with a two-run double in the seventh.

“I’m smaller, but seeing the ball, getting around on it helps me a lot, just squaring it up, perfecting my swing over the winter,” Kelly said. “I’ve always had a little bit of power in me. I got in the weight room a lot over the fall and winter. That helped me a lot. Just based on things I’ve experienced, being on varsity, being with other players who showed me the way to play the game right, how to mature from it, I’ve become better.”

Kuntz doubled and tripled, he and Jacob Dockery matching Kelly’s three hits and three runs for the Cougars (2-0).

“They are no stranger to the batting cage,” Schellinger said. “Roman’s kind of a free swinger. He gets up there and attacks. Gavin’s approach is top notch. He gets himself a count, battles, fouls tough pitches off and gets a pitch to hit and doesn’t miss it. We’re putting the ball in play. Guys are looking for opportunities to take extra bases and creating pressure as well.”

It all took its toll on the Wolves, who didn’t do their pitchers any favors with shoddy glove work.

“We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to get on the field and actually take ground balls, fly balls,” City coach Jeff Rochowiak said. “Usually the wind is blowing in 20 miles an hour and it was blowing out. They’re a very good hitting team and they got a hold of some. The little mistakes are what hurt us. We had eight to 10 errors and probably five or six mental errors.”

The poor defense tempered Rochowiak’s concerns over the rough outing for ace Bryce Hayman, who was tagegd for nine runs in four innings.

“Overall, I was very pleased with how Bryce pitched,” Rochowiak said. “We’d have a couple errors and then they had a good hit. That happened a lot to us. Tyler Cuma came in and did a good job. We have some players who are new to varsity and they struggled a little bit. First-game jitters, they were overexcited.”

The hitting barrage overshadowed some mound struggles for New Prairie as well as its hurlers issued 13 bases on balls.

“I saw a lot of pitches and I saw a lot of pitches out of the zone,” Schellinger said. “It starts on the mound and not just physically, but mentally. You’ve got to get up there and be a bulldog, get after them, put the ball in the zone. We’ve got a pretty good defense. I’m OK with teams putting the ball in play. We just need our pitchers to make them do that. When we get up, we want to extend the lead, which we did, and shut them down defensively, which we did not do. We need guys to step up and want the ball, to battle.”

Tyler Siegmund had a two-run homer and Riley Shreve singled in two in the sixth when City scored four runs to pull within 13-8.

“Overall, we hit the ball very well,” Rochowiak said. “Only a few kids were striking out, so we were making contact. (Catcher Gabe Galvan)’s coming back from a hip injury. I wasn’t sure he was going to be able to play at all, so I’m glad to see him back on the field. Scoring 10 runs in the first game, that’s something we haven’t done in the last five years. We had one against much of the same (New Prairie) pitching last year. We’ve got a great ball club. I’m excited about the season. A lot of good things are going to come out of the year.”

New Prairie 16, Michigan City 10

Gavin Kelly had three hits and six RBIs for the Cougars.