For six years, Indian River head baseball coach Howard Smack has made his presence known, recently leading the team to its third consecutive conference title in the Henlopen South. This year, with his solid, talented group of 15 individuals, he’s hoping to do that once again, and then some.
The Indians can expect some solid action on the mound this season from lefty Trevor Abbott and relief Nik Kmetz. Both have contributed vital roles in the Indians’ quest to lock up the conference and, in their senior years, the pitchers will hope to complete an admirable streak during their time at IR.
“Most of our infield is intact,” noted Smack. “There are a lot of talented players here, and it’s nice to have them back.”
The Indians will benefit from the return of several juniors whose appearance on the field through their sophomore year helped to shape their performance. Players like third-baseman Luis Barrientos, second-baseman and relief Cameron Travalini, catcher Bo Wilkinson and shortstop senior Sean Lewis will all be hoping to bring their strengths to the team, as well.
“It surprises me sometimes,” said Smack. “I look around and realize that last year I had three guys who were starting at the varsity level in their sophomore year. You have to look at Cory Showalter, too, who finished 4-1 last year pitching, when he was just a freshman.”
Returning talent on the team is definitely one of the perks that Smack looks forward to this season.
“It’s all about growing into the position,” he said.
“A couple of guys moved up this year from JV,” he added. “They’re showing some real improvement on the field.”
Among a few of them is Tyree Oliver, who can now enjoy the season as full-time varsity this year.
With a solid infield, Smack made his calculated adjustments to replace the outfield, picking up on positions that were vacant after graduation. Names like Thomas Veith, Mark Ahfeldt and Josh Sweetman made it apparent that spaces were going to need to be filled.
Though, as Smack indubitably noted, it’s not always about having an unstoppable defense.
“It’s going to be a tough season,” he said. “Some of this year’s toughest competition is going to come from the big schools. Milford, Caesar Rodney, Sussex Central, Polytech, Lake Forest and, of course, Delmar. They are some of my biggest concerns. There’ll probably be some parody in the schedule. It will be interesting, but I think we can [secure the conference] a fourth time as long as we hit the ball.”
Confident in his defense, “hitting the ball” is his priority in practices leading up to the season.
“That’s the whole key, right there,” he said. “We really need to hit the ball, and I’ll say that over and over. There’s no need having a good pitcher and good defense if you don’t score any runs.”
The Indians had a scrimmage set for Thursday, March 13, against Easton (after Coastal Point deadline) and will host Stephen Decatur in a scrimmage on Tuesday, March 18, at 3:30 p.m. before opening up their season to Nandua at home on Tuesday, March 25, at 1 p.m.
“We don’t have a lot of love on the schedule this year,” Smack said. “We’re going up against other strong teams, like Salesianum School, Caravel and Archmere Academy.”
The seemingly intimidating schedule doesn’t discomfort Smack, though. He’s been keeping a solid head on his shoulders.
“My philosophy,” he said, “is ‘To be the best, you have to play the best.’ We don’t gain anything by playing a team that’s 1-10. Let’s face it. We can learn something by playing teams like Caravel and St. Mark’s. They have a mystique about them. You’ve got to play so that you can get to where they’ve been, and that’s our goal: to get there.
“I’d like to win a state championship here at Indian River, and every year we work a little harder to make it true.”