“This was a great way to get a win. Playing out in the warm weather must have warmed our bats,” said senior first baseman Matt Lewis as Indian River trounced Milford, 17-4, on April 5.
The bats weren’t warm — they were hot, scorching hot. After a long break and a canceled tournament, head coach Howard Smack was a little concerned that his players would be a little flat. But it seemed to work as a motivation for the players.
“Last year, the layoff hurt us. We had won four in a row, and then we bottomed out,” said Smack. The Indians weren’t idle during the break, despite having their Easter tournament cancelled. Instead, they practiced the fundamentals.
“We worked on some inside/outside hitting, game-type situations and getting our players comfortable in their positions,” said Smack.
The Indians looked more than comfortable at the plate — they almost seemed serene. Indian River’s hitters were very patient when the hits counted and were able to capitalize on Milford’s pitching errors.
Junior shortstop Josh Dean ignited the offensive melee with a monster leadoff homerun. Dean finished the day 2-3, which included a homerun and a RBI. “Their pitcher got behind in the count, 2-0; and I just stayed aggressive, and he made a mistake,” said Dean.
Indian River dominated Milford’s pitching throughout the game. They tagged Milford’s starting pitcher for five runs through the second inning, and their skipper was forced to go to his bullpen. The hitters picked up where they left off, and Matt Lewis and sophomore second baseman Thomas Vieth tattooed the fresh reliever for a grand slam apiece in the third inning.
Lewis finished the day 1-2, with a walk, grand slam, four RBIs and two runs. Veith hit 1-3, with one grand slam, which resulted in four RBIs and scored one run.
“It’s great to see our hitting come around like it has. It’s going to be tough for teams to pitch around us,” said Smack.
Junior centerfielder Matt Williamson also had a standout day, finishing the game, 2-2, including a two-run homerun and a bunt single for three RBIs. Williamson dazzled spectators with his bat but also with his arm. He threw out a Milford base runner who was trying to tag up to score.
“Matt’s play was very important, because if that run would’ve scored, then it would’ve tied the game up in the second inning,” said Smack.
Milford was eager to move runners, and the Indians made them pay every time. Junior right-fielder Eric Givans gunned out another would-be base runner who was digging for second base. The throw was accurate and on a B-line.
“Eric has an incredible arm. I was a bit surprised that Milford ran in that situation, and Eric made them pay,” boasted Smack.
The Indians’ offense and defense was hitting on all cylinders — important because senior starting pitcher Cody Jensen had a tough time with Milford’s hitters. Jensen did secure the win, improving his record to 1-1 on the season. He pitched a complete game, allowing three earned runs on seven hits, one walk and one homerun, and modestly collected two strikeouts.
“Cody wasn’t his sharpest, like he was when he pitched versus St. Mark’s,” said Smack. “Cody is a position pitcher, and he wasn’t getting those low strikes called. It seemed to bother him, but our pitching coach, Mark Sewell, and Chris McGee thought it would be best to move D.J. Clark (the team’s catcher) inside just a hair, and he was able to keep them at bay.”
The Indians’ win moved them past the .500 mark, to 2-1, as they prepare for a three-game road trip over the next week, versus Seaford, Sussex Central and Woodbridge.
Seaford is currently 1-1 and narrowly defeated Milford 4-0 on March 31. Sussex Central has played poorly thus far this season, winning one of four games. Woodbridge (3-1) will likely prove to be Indian River’s toughest test on this road trip before they head home to play Dover on April 26.
Those teams may want to hope there isn’t another layoff, or the Indians may win every game by a large margin.