Mistakes decrease a team’s chance at winning any game. A false start can turn a third-and-two into a third-and-seven situation, which in turn limits a coach’s play-calling. They would’ve liked to run and have a possibility at two-down territory but penalties kill. Miss a few free-throws down the stretch in the fourth quarter and you guarantee that team loses or cuts it too close for comfort.
Baseball isn’t any different. It’s a relatively easy game to play: you hit, catch, run and throw — very simple. Along the way, there are more intricate rules to the game that are equally as important to winning the game. And the Indian River Indians broke a very important one at a critical moment in their game against Sussex Central on March 28.
“The cardinal rule is when a fly ball is hit, you always take a step back,” explained Indian River varsity baseball Head Coach Howard Smack.
Junior left-fielder Mark Ahlfeldt went 2-3 with two RBI’s that cut the Golden Knights lead to 4-3, but he broke Smack’s and baseball’s cardinal rule in the top of the seventh when freshman Matt Eskridge lifted a ball deep to left field. Eskridge’s hit earned him his second double of the day and his second game-winning hit of the season (the other against St. Mark’s in 5-4 win).
“This is such a huge rivalry that nobody expects a freshman to get a game-winning hit,” Eskridge said, a bit exasperated.
The Ahfeldt wasn’t totally to blame — games are never won and lost on a single play. The Indians committed four errors (Ahfeldt’s play wasn’t an error) and left the bases loaded twice — so they had opportunities to win the game.
Starting pitcher junior Mike Casale had a tough first regular-season debut, lasting five innings and giving up eight hits and four earned runs while walking and striking out two apiece. Sophomore relief pitcher Nik Kmetz didn’t fare too much better in the final two innings and allowed four hits and three runs in only two innings pitched.
“Mike did OK. He had one rocky inning (the second) because he grooved it right down the middle,” Smack said.
Kmetz was ahead to Eskridge 0-2 in the count and like Casale “grooved the ball down the middle,” for the game-winning hit.
“If you’re ahead two strikes — you don’t put one in the middle,” Smack said. “He’s too good of a hitter to do that.”
The Indians’ pitchers may not have given the Golden Knights’ hitters much respect but that’s something that team is already used to, according to Knights’ head coach Brad Breasure.
“This was a big game for us,” Breasure said. “Beating St. Mark’s was a nice feather in our cap, but we’re looking for respect. We’ll probably be the underdog all year long.”
Despite the Indians’ great season last year as Southern Conference champs, and making the state tournament, Smack knows that nothing is guaranteed this year.
“I told them (the players) that we’ve got a bull’s-eye on our back. Just because we won the conference doesn’t mean teams are going to roll over for us. We need to develop that killer instinct,” he said.
The Indians surprised St. Marks by beating them 7-2 in its season-opener, behind sophomore pitcher Trevor Abbott’s (1-0) complete-game, 13-strikeout victory, senior shortstop’s Josh Dean’s two triples and senior centerfielder Matt Williamson’s three-RBI homerun.
The Indians downed Seaford 5-2 the next day in a rematch of last year’s 2-0 regular-season loss. After not pitching to live batting for 10 days, Warner (1-0) rebounded to pitch a complete game and three-strikeout performance. Casale went 2-3 with a double and three RBI’s.
The Indians will continue non-conference play at Newark on March 31 with a 3:45 start-time.