Indian River High School’s baseball team will be tested with upcoming back-to-back games, but judging from their driving record, it shouldn’t hinder the squad all too much. The 10-1 Indians continued their hot streak this week, proving triumphant over Sussex Central with a score of 8-4 and Archmere Academy, who they beat 6-4, despite some pain that developed in starting pitcher Luis Barrientos’ throwing arm.
With confidence offering support on the mound and a consistent and heavy-hitting lineup, head coach Howard Smack is anything but worried.
“We’re playing exactly how we need to,” he said. These guys are getting the job done.”
“[Barrientos] is OK to play his position at third,” he noted, “but as far as pitching, I’m just going to hold off on him. I think it’s no more than a muscle sprain, but I’m going with the fact that he knows how he feels. I don’t want to take a chance at injuring him more, being he’s only a junior. He plays a lot of summer ball, and we don’t want to mess him up there. I took him off the pitching lineup but I didn’t erase him off the program.”
Barrientos moved up this year to varsity and has established himself as a very sound pitcher. With his minor hindrance, he will be supplemented with plenty of other talent. For Smack, that just means he will refer back to the roster.
“Cory Showalter is now back to his full repertoire,” Smack said. “We also have a pitcher who we haven’t used all year, and we’ll be putting him out there against Woodbridge.”
Center-fielder sophomore Matt McDowell had the opportunity to try his throwing arm this Thursday.
“We still have Nick [Kmetz], of course, our do-all man,” noted Smack. “He’s usually our closer, and I’d like to keep him in that role.”
“For the guys who are new to varsity, like Luis and Matt, I like to slowly work them in,” he added. “Matt’s played a lot of travel ball, but when you get them up to varsity, you don’t want to throw them to the wolves.”
Rotating McDowell onto the mound will allow for Smack to keep legs fresh in the outfield and a strong cannon on the mound.
“He’s definitely ready,” Smack said of McDowell. “I’ll leave decisions like that up to my pitching coach a lot of the time, but we don’t just do it. We slowly build up to this point. He’s been telling me he’s ready. If I need, I know I can always turn to Trevor Abbott, too. You always want to keep your ace in the hole.”
With a postponed game against Laurel pushed off from this past Tuesday, the Indians had some time to reflect, following last Saturday’s win over Archmere. Archmere had forfeited several games leading up to Saturday’s game at Indian River, due to player ineligibility, but they weren’t about to go down quietly.
“We started out a little slow in that game,” said Smack. “We weren’t hitting on all cylinders.”
Trailing 0-3 by the end of the first inning and 0-4 in the second, IR knew they had to step it up at the plate.
“After that, Nick [Kmetz] shut them down.”
He threw 6 1/3 innings before Abbott closed it out. McDowell stabilized the win with a two-RBI double.
Smack’s priority is on sustaining solid hitting from the bullpen, and, so far, McDowell has been delivering.
“He came through right when we needed it,” said the satisfied coach. “He had the capability. I was just waiting for it to happen and it happened.”
Though Bo Wilkinson finds himself discouraged about his play of late, Smack glorified his performance throughout the season. “He’s been tough all year and he’s done what we’ve asked of him. He just likes to contribute every time.”
Senior Sean Lewis fought at the plate and played, regardless of the fact that he was feeling under the weather. He registered the team’s only two hits in the win against Sussex Central, locking up the game.
“Cameron [Travalini] is going to break loose here, too,” Smack added. “I can feel it, but as long as his glove stays hot, I’m happy. Luke Wingate is doing a great job hitting the ball. He’s got a knack for making the pitcher earn that out. When there are two outs and a full count, he makes you work for it.”
With the state tournament approaching near the end of this month, Smack is hoping that the seeding will treat his ball club well. Seeding is based on a point system, awarded for wins. Victories over teams with a .500 or better record on the season will net them extra points.
Indian River currently sits at the No. 4 spot in the state, sitting just behind Hodgson Vocational Technical School, Alexis I. Dupont and John Dickinson High.
“We can’t look too far ahead,” said Smack. “We’ve got to look at the Woodbridge game and put our emphasis on that. If we can win the next five conference games, we can lock up the Henlopen conference. We’ve just got to come ready to play, every game. We try to frontload the schedule, because if you get ready to end like we are now, it’s tough. All we have to do is keep swinging the bat.”
Indian River took on Cape Henlopen on Wednesday and Woodbridge on Thursday, both after Coastal Point press time, and will follow up with a busy week, hosting Caravel Academy on Monday, May 5, traveling to Lake Forest on Tuesday, May 6, and hitching it to Dover by next Thursday. All games are set for 4:15 p.m.