The hits keep comin’

April 4, 2019

NEW CARLISLE — The conga line starts in the on-deck circle, progresses to the batter’s box, works its way around the bases and then finishes back in the New Prairie dugout.

“It’s a lot of fun. We’re all feeling really good right now,” Cougars senior Ethan Nielson said after a 19-4, five-inning rout of Marquette Catholic on Wednesday. “We’re energetic, cheering people on.”

A six-run first and a 12-run second powered N.P. (4-0) to a season-high, which is saying something, considering it scored 45 runs in its first three games.

“We’re swinging the bats, no doubt,” coach Mark Schellinger said in a familiar refrain. “It starts with our approach, one through nine. We’re not extending the zone and when we get fastballs in the zone, we’re doing damage with them.

We’ve done a great job of piling on runs. We’re getting up early and we’re not stopping. We’re not letting teams get back into it for the most part. Guys are coming off the bench, getting right in there. Hitting is contagious. Guys want to swing the bat.”

New Prairie had its first six hitters reach, chasing Cormac Markham before he recorded an out. Cormack Bardol came on and was greeted with a three-run home run by Nielson.

“It’s not surprising,” Nielson said. “Everybody put in the work in the off-season. We’re 100 percent focused every pitch, just trying to hit it hard.”

The Cougars came two batters short of batting around twice in the second as the first nine hitters reached. A.J. Bello doubled in a pair, Jarrod Michael singled in two and J.C. Turley, batting in Bello’s spot the second time through the order, also plated two with a hit as Marquette (0-2) changed pitchers twice more. John Allen was the only one to escape unscathed, tossing a scoreless third.

“Man, they go up and swing the bat. That’s a good hitting ball club,” Blazers coach Casey Martin said. “We’ve just got a ways to go with our pitching. We don’t have that velocity, that 80 to 85 (miles per hour) guy. We’re 70 to 75. The difference for us is, we get to two strikes, we don’t have that out pitch. The kids are all on arm programs, but it’s a slow change. They’re young guys. By the time they’re seniors, they should be up there.”

Roman Kuntz tripled in two in the first and had two hits in the nine-hit second.

“We’re running the bases well, too,” Schellinger said. “Guys are getting out of box thinking two, we’re going first to third. A ball in the dirt, we’re moving up one. We’re just clicking on all cylinders offensively. It’s a fun atmosphere. They’re practicing well. We have a lot of varsity veterans. It’s an old team. We practice like it. From day one, they were locked in and it’s carrying over to the games, too.”

The offensive barrage made a good Marquette start a moot point. The Blazers scored twice and had the bases loaded in the first before Hunter Robinson keyed a double play on a ground ball to short to get Josh Conley out of the inning.

“That was a nice play by Hunter and I think it helped Josh settled in as well,” Schellinger said. “He was in the zone, he was just almost too in the zone when he got ahead, leaving some curve balls over the plate. This was big for him after his last outing.”

Marquette picked up two runs in the fifth, including an RBI single by Robert Barron.

“I’m happy with the progress we’ve made, even though we lose both games,” Martin said. “This is our fourth day outside. Our approach at the plate was much better. I think it’s a good way to challenge the kids right away. I like the idea of them seeing, hey, this is where we need to be. These are teams we want to be able to compete against in the future. Even though the results aren’t what we want, there’s a lot we’re going to learn from.”

New Prairie 19, Marquette Catholic 4

The Cougars’ Ethan Nielson homered and drove in five runs.