Indian River varsity baseball head coach Howard Smack couldn’t have drawn it up any better, following a three-game slide to conference foes midway through the season. But his team has since won four of their past five games, including a 11-4 win over Polytech and a 6-2 win over Lake Forest.
A 7-1 record dipped to 7-4, and then surged to 11-5 overall, 8-4 in the Southern Division and within grasp of the Southern Division title.
“You couldn’t ask for better momentum going into states,” Smack said.
Indian River currently is only 1.5 games ahead of second-place Seaford for the Southern Division, but a win over Milford on May 11 would ensure their claim on the title.
Indian River set a series of goals before the season, in order of importance: (1) win state, (2) win Henlopen Conference, (3) win Southern Division, (4) play .500 baseball, and last – have fun. And though they won’t win the Henlopen Conference again, many of those goals remain in sight.
“It looks like Cape (Henlopen) has the conference wrapped up, but we may have sewn our division up,” Smack said. “We’re playing pretty good, but we’re at that point where we can’t have any letdowns.”
Smack’s players must have taken his declaration to heart because Indian River is running on all cylinders.
“These have been our most complete games all year,” Smack said. “We’re hitting the ball the best all season, we’re making great defensive plays, hustling and we have the pitching.”
Indian River tallied 12 hits against Lake Forest but it all started with a RBI-single by Josh Dean in the second inning that scored second-baseman Cameron Travalini.
From there, the Indians did what Smack has pleaded with them to do — string hits together and capitalize.
Third-baseman Luis Barrientos led off with a solo homerun in the third, which was followed by a walk by catcher Bryan Lynch. Designated hitter Colin Warner slapped him in for one of his two RBI’s on 2-4 hitting, and outfielder Thomas Veith tripled him. Veith scored on a sac-fly by Travalini, giving the Indians a four-run third inning and the eventual win.
Starting pitcher Trevor Abbott (5-1) pitched a complete game with 11 strikeouts, four hits, two walks and only one earned run.
Smack mentioned Abbott had some delivery problems at first but some tinkering made him “untouchable.”
“Trevor pitched a tremendous ball game,” piped Smack, “though he started out shaky. … He wasn’t extending and only half-throwing and he couldn’t find his curve ball. Once we figured out what he was doing wrong he was untouchable.”
Smack noted great defensive plays by Travalini and Lynch, who threw out two base runners trying to steal third base.
Warner (5-0) picked up the win against Polytech on his own 11-strikeout performance, while allowing only five hits. Though he did give up a three-run homerun to south-paw Randy Hurd, which cut the Indians’ lead to 5-3 in the fifth inning, Warner struck him out, swinging to finish the game as part of his third three-up, three-down innings.
Dean towered a moonshot of a homerun to centerfield in the fifth inning, giving Indian River a 5-0 lead on part of 2-3 hitting (walk earned, stolen base and two runs scored) but the Panthers whittled the lead to one run in the sixth inning. However, that is where Smack’s team showed what they were made of.
Following back-to-back one-out singles by outfielder Zack Warner and Dean, first-baseman Mike Casale delivered on a pinch-hit RBI single, giving Indian River a bit more breathing room.
With two outs following a Barrientos strikeout, Dean scored (7-4 IR) on a past pitch to Lynch, who in turn drew a full-count walk. Warner helped his cause on a two-RBI (9-4 IR) double to leftfield.
Still with two outs, Veith and Travalini got on base (HB and BB respectively) to load the bases, again before center fielder Matt Williamson delivered a two-RBI single (11-4 IR). But the nod definitely went to the base runners.
Veith was at second and Williamson’s base hit rocketed to the shortstop, but Veith timed his run perfectly and the ball scooted between the infielder’s legs.
Indian River will conclude its regular season with games against Milford, Laurel (May 13), Caravel (May 15) and Sussex Central (May 17), which gives the Indians a chance to improve on their momentum.
Indian River lost to both Laurel and Sussex Central this season and a season-sweep is something Smack would like to avoid.
“We need to win our last four games,” Smack said. “We’ve got to bring our A-game. We can’t bring our C-game or B-game because this is the most competitive conference I’ve seen in years.”
“I’d like to get that same pitching (against Laurel) because it wasn’t our pitching that did it to us. We left too many runners on the bases. Sussex Central is another one I’d like to get back.”
Caravel (14-1) is one of the elite baseball programs in the state and they’ve done everything they can to ensure it stays that way. They’ve averaged 12 runs over the past seven games and on May 6 beat Cape Henlopen 18-1. But none of that concerns Smack.
“This is a nice mind-set game. We only lost to them 5-1 last year,” he said. “We should’ve beat Newark but an error cost us, so we need to play that type of competition.”
“It’s not out of the realm of possibility that we make it to the second round or even the finals right now,” he said.”