In each of the past two seasons, Cape Henlopen’s varsity baseball team has lost to Indian River. Last year Indian River, Cape Henlopen and Caesar Rodney were in a three-way heat for the conference championship, but it was the Indians who pulled out the highly-contested crown by winning that head-to-head match-up against the Vikings.
This year, No. 1 Cape Henlopen (10-1, 7-0 conference) sits atop the baseball rankings provided by regional newspaper The News Journal, but there is more to it than mid-season record or accolades. It’s about getting and maintaining the edge to beat the good teams — especially in the conference.
“I haven’t beaten Indian River in three years,” admitted starting pitcher Sean Tappan, “so this was mainly a confidence win.”
Viking first baseman Tyler Hastings’ first-inning, three-run, opposite-field homerun wasn’t enough to hold off the Indians, despite leaving 11 left on base as a team. But the Vikings eventually out-scored the Indians 7-5 behind a 12-strikeout complete-game effort by Tappan (4-1).
Indians starting pitcher Trevor Abbott (3-2) didn’t seem to have the control he had against St. Marks or Newark and gave up six hits and three walks, including a bases-loaded walk to Tappan to walk in the Vikings’ fourth run in the second inning, and he hit two batters.
Indian River rallied behind centerfielder Matt Williamson’s leadoff single, which sparked a four-run, third-inning rally to give the Indians a 5-4 lead.
Luis Barrientos followed up his first-inning solo homerun by driving in Williamson on a sac-fly to deep centerfield. Colin Warner drove in his brother, Zack Warner, on a RBI-single. Zack Warner reached base on a full count walk and second-baseman Thomas Veith capped the inning with a two-out, two-RBI double. But the lead would be short-lived.
Abbott lasted only 3-1/3 innings but fanned six before handing relief pitcher Nik Kmetz a tie 5-5 ball-game.
Despite losing two consecutive games to conference opponents (Caesar Rodney and Laurel), Tappan and the Vikings expected nothing less than a 100 percent effort from Indian River.
“We knew that they we’re shooting for us,” Tappan said. “Every year it’s a battle. We’ve had a problem with cruise control, so we tried to keep the intensity up.”
Kmetz pitched well, striking out five and leaving the rest to his defense. Kmetz came right in and squelched a Viking rally in the fourth — leaving two runners in scoring position.
“Nik is did a very good job. He’s a competitor and he’ll give you 100 percent,” Indian River Head Coach Howard Smack said. “He’s our reliever and that’s his job, but he just can’t catch a break.”
Cape Henlopen kept at it, and William Cunningham scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning on a throwing error by first baseman Mike Casale.
Cunningham reached base on a Josh Dean error to start the inning and advanced on a hit in play. The play at first was late and the runner was ruled safe, which allowed Cunningham to motor around to third. The errant throw scored the go-ahead run (6-5).
Cape Henlopen added another insurance run — topping its 7-5 lead — which was more than enough for Tappan.
After a rough third inning, Tappan got back to the basics and kept throwing the pitches that have made him one of the conference’s best pitchers.
“I got out of the groove there in the third inning so I reminded myself to stay within myself,” he said. “The deuce and changeup were working today. Fortunately, I was able to put it all together.”
“He lost a little confidence there in the third inning,” said Cape Henlopen Head Coach Ben Evick. “But the good pitchers find a way to get things done. Anytime you can strike out 12 is big — especially against a team that hits the ball as well as Indian River.”
Following the loss, Smack made mention that, if his team is going to get off its three-game slide, then they’re going to have to start producing as a team.
“We shook the lineup up and now we have to start stringing some hits together,” he said. “Some people need to hit that aren’t hitting.”
“Right now, we’re still in the hunt. We have nine ballgames left and we could win the next nine and finish 16-4,” Smack said. “It’s not over ’til the fat lady sings.”
Indian River will travel to Sussex Tech on April 28 and host Archmere Academy at 10 a.m. on April 29. They play Delmar and Polytech the following week.