Indian River’s varsity baseball and softball teams are out to make a statement this year and may have done so already, with big wins upstate and within the Henlopen Conference. The baseball team is out to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke — that they have a team worthy of annual state tournament bids. And the (currently 6-0) softball team wants to prove that they belong among the sport’s elite — not just another playoff team but a championship team.
Every season, a handful of teams make it to the state tournament and an even smaller number have an opportunity to play for the championship. So to get there, teams have to emphasize the little things — which are precisely what these two teams do best.
Since softball has a much smaller field, the game tends to be much faster — which in turn forces the players to think and react without hesitation.
Lady Indians Head Coach Mark Browne and his staff instituted different pressure situations into each practice to give his players repetitions at playing in certain situations.
“The trick is to make practice more difficult than games,” Browne said. “And the more times they’re in those situations — the more comfortable to handle it.”
To achieve optimum results, Browne splits his team in half. So, for example, Kathryn Riley may pitch to Sara Powell, Kayla Warrington and Jen Tyre in a simulated game to give the ladies practice at, not only pitching or hitting against top competition, but also in tough situations.
Browne may have Powell come to the plate with a runner on second and no outs and let the defense micromanage the situation.
“We — as a coaching staff — we like to walk away and sit and watch,” Browne said. “We let them make the decisions and let them play the game out. They’ll huddle up at the mound and talk about coverages.”
Despite a sterling 6-0 record so far, Riley doesn’t always get outs by striking out her opponents, so these pressure situations help her and her teammates gauge each others’ ability to get outs.
“As a pitcher, you don’t always get it the out, so it’s good to be prepared just in case,” she said.
Recently, the Lady Indians’ efforts earned them three straight shutouts, over Woodbridge, Newark and Dover (13-0, 9-0 and 9-0 respectively), following a 2-0 win over last year’s state champion, Sussex Central, on March 28
The baseball team (5-1) won the Southern Henlopen Championship last year, but after losing a number of starters (four) to graduation there were questions swirling around if they could repeat. Thus far, the Indians have silence the critics with wins over last year’s state champion, St. Mark’s, and Newark.
They lost two games to Newark last year — the last a 4-3 state tournament loss — but rallied in the fifth inning on a Colin Warner RBI-double, scoring Luis Barrientos from third base to take a 5-4 lead and eventually the win.
First baseman Mike Casale misplayed a foul ball that should have been the third out but instead turned into a two-run homerun and a Newark lead — but that’s what makes this team special, according to Warner.
“One thing about this team is that we’ve never given up. Even though we lost to Sussex Central — we were down 4-2 and came back to tie it at 4-4. We were down against Newark and came back. The thing is — if you make a mistake, then you have to put it behind you,” Warner said.
Despite making an occasional error, the Indians’ new starters have also made invaluable on-field contributions in each of the team’s wins.
Casale hit 2-3 with a double and three RBI’s in their 5-2 win over Seaford on March 24. Third baseman Luis Barrientos mitted a line drive and tagged third for a force out and the double play in their 6-5 win over Dover. Left fielder Zack Warner played a ground ball to the outfield perfectly and made the throw to Barrientos for the final out of the game.
“Zack played the ball in front of him and made the relay to third for the final out,” shortstop Josh Dean said. “Everyone needs to do their part. We may have lost a lot of players, but this season’s about getting respect.”