Indian River baseball head coach Howard Smack had confidence in his team’s pitching. He had confidence in the defense. The one thing on his mind going into Tuesday’s season-opener hosting Nandua (Va.) was hitting. But judging by the looks of the 22-8 victory, he needn’t worry too much about that, either.
The Indians were able to get out to a comfortable early lead as they hosted the Warriors in the first game of the year. Despite a comeback from the Nandua offense, the Indians followed through with solid batting from the entire team to ensure the game was anything but close. Each one of IR’s starters managed at least one hit for the hosting Indians.
“It’s a real morale-builder for the sophomores on the team and those who haven’t played varsity,” noted Smack. “This is exactly how you want to start the season. We looked a little shaky at first, but the guys came out here and did their stuff.”
Junior Bo Wilkinson finished strong, going 2-2 on the on the day with five RBIs. Matt McDowell followed close behind with an impressive 3-4 finish that netted two additional runs.
“Our hitting came through strong today,” said Smack. “That has been one of our main focuses. I was impressed with the way the guys hit. It used to be, down in our lineup, we’d start to taper off a little bit. But today, the guys further in the lineup really came through.”
The Indians were forced to swing against pitches they were not traditionally familiar with, as Nandua presented a new pitcher from last season.
“One thing that we usually struggle with,” said Smack, “is connecting with that slow curve and changeup. But today, we got it, and it made a big difference.”
The defense stayed on their toes all afternoon, as Luis Barrientos turned a double play midway through the game.
“That was definitely a nice momentum shift,” said Smack. “That lit a fire under the team, and they played with determination after that.”
Another stand-out player in the Indians’ first game of the season was pitcher Nick Kmetz, whose arm helped seal the deal for IR after he stepped in two-thirds of the way through, with the score tied.
“Nick is usually our closer,” Smack noted. “We were going with him to close if Corey [Showalter] got three or four innings, but he came in earlier and did what we expected him to do. No matter what you ask of him, he comes in and does the job.”
This was the first time in more than half a decade that the Indians started the year against someone other than St. Mark’s. This time, the Indians were set to travel to Wilmington on Thursday (after Coastal Point press deadline) to face St. Mark’s in their second game of the season.
“St. Mark’s is an excellent ball club with a lot of history,” Smack said. “This game will be a good barometer for seeing what kind of team we are. We ought to really see where we stand based on this game.”
This year, the teams will meet each other after each club has a game under their belt. St. Mark’s opened up on Wednesday against Sussex Central. The Indians will travel to Smyrna on April 1 before returning home to host Cape Henlopen on Thursday, April 3, at 4:15 p.m.