No margin for error
MISHAWAKA — Parts of his pitching line -- five innings, eight hits, three runs (one earned), three walks -- may not have reflected it, but New Prairie ace Hunter Robinson did some of his best work of the spring in Wednesday’s 3-1 Northern Indiana Conference loss to Class 4A No. 2 Penn.
“They’re really good hitters,” the Cougars senior said. “I’ve played with quite a few of these guys in travel ball. They’ve seen me before, too. They’re really good battlers. Their leadoff hitter (CJ) Kavadas probably fouled me off at least 30 times. That’s what’s fun as a pitcher. It’s a cat and mouse game, them trying to guess what pitch I’m going to throw next and I have to think, OK, what wouldn’t they expect? That’s why I love pitching. I might get them one at-bat and they come up the next time, guess my pitch and hit it.”
While the Kingsmen touched up Robinson, he continually limited the damage. He left the bases loaded in the first with three strikeouts in a row against the middle of the order, then stranded a pair on early-inning threats in the second and third to keep the game close.
“Hunter battled,” NP coach Mark Schellinger said. “The outing he had against a lineup like that, I’ll take that any day. I think shows not just what a quality pitcher is, but what a quality competitor he is. He pitched from ahead. You get two strikes and they just fight, foul ball after foul ball.”
Two Cougars errors both produced Penn runs. In the second, Wyatt Kmiecik misplayed a fly ball in left field and Kameron Koch eventually scored on a force play. After a string of three hits produced a go-ahead Kingsmen run in the third, an errant to throw to third by catcher Ethan Nielson in the sixth let in an insurance tally.
“It doesn’t matter who we play. We need to take care of ourselves. We need to execute,” Schellinger said. “If we catch a fly ball and we execute a play on a first-and-third situation, it’s a 1-1 game and who knows? we might still be playing. As we look forward, no matter what it is, sectionals, whatever, we’ve got to be able to make those plays.”
Scoring opportunities were not ample for NP. Jacob Dockery started the game with a single but was picked off. He had the Cougars’ sole hits against Western Michigan recruit Hayden Berg, a single to right in the third bringing in Jarrod Michael with New Prairie’s sole run after he coaxed a two-out walk and stole second.
“He’s a good pitcher. he came out throwing strikes,” Dockery said. “The team has a mentality of we need to jump on him, we need to make something happen, when sometimes we need to dial that back a little bit and play the game a bit smarter. We had an approach that wasn’t right for (this) game for that quality of pitcher. He had a pretty good fastball and with that fastball he mixed in a pretty good curve ball that kept us on our toes pretty good. He was different than what we’ve faced.”
Nielson had what appeared to be a double with one out in the fifth, but he missed the first base bag negotiating the slippery surface and was out on appeal. Michaal drew another base on balls in the sixth only to be erased in a double play and Berg breezed through the seventh.
“Berg’s pretty good,” Schellinger said. “He’s going Division I for a reason. He spots his fastball and when he misses, it’s usually with a purpose. We preach we want to attack, but I think we were almost a little too aggressive. It’s a fine line. Some guys who are usually pretty good at working counts, I don’t know if the blood was pumping a little too much, but we’ve got to get used to being in situations like that and make sure we execute.”
Robinson, who fanned nine, looks for himself and the Class 3A No. 9 Cougars to bounce back.
“My command was good. My curve ball’s been a little bit better than it was,” he said. “At the end of the day, I know I’m a good pitcher, but I’m always going to be hard on myself, a few pitches I left up in the zone. It’s another learning curve. We’re going to take this loss and come back to practice and say, all right, what do we need to work on? I think it’s going to light a fire under us. We were there with them and we let it go. We know we can hang with these guys. We can hang with anyone in the area, if we want to.”
Penn 3, New Prairie 1
Jacob Dockery had both Cougars hits and their sole RBI.