Pope: After slow start, defending champ Lake Central red hot
By LaMond Pope 713-2691 or email@example.com May 10, 2013 7:20PM
Lake Central's Nick Kellams drives home a run for the Indians against Crown Point in the second inning Monday afternoon at Lake Central. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 13, 2013 7:05PM
St. John — Can it be that the high school baseball season is already rounding second base on its way to third?
Where did the time go?
Weren’t we just waiting to see if the snow would hold off so games could be played? Now, the draw for sectionals is set for Tuesday. And the postseason will soon follow.
In between all the raindrops this spring, there has been some pretty good baseball. Area teams are scattered throughout the state baseball polls. Andrean sits atop the Class 3A rankings. Washington Township is sixth in Class 1A. Bishop Noll and Boone Grove are fifth and eighth, respectively, in the Class 2A rankings. Crown Point is No. 6 in Class 4A.
That’s just a handful of teams capable of making a lengthy postseason run.
Lake Central is one team that knows all about long playoff stays. The Indians, after all, captured the Class 4A state title last year with pitchers Taylor Lehnert and Jimmy McNamara leading the charge.
Both have moved on to Central Michigan. And coach Jeff Sandor knew there would be an adjustment period.
“These guys are going to have to learn to face a little more adversity than last year,” Sandor said in March.
That adversity came early when the team started 3-3. The Indians have gone 13-2 since.
“Our offense has been really good,” Sandor said earlier this week. “We have the top four hitters around here. They are absolutely outstanding. And we have made some plays defensively. And our pitchers have done a good job throwing strikes, which has led to us minimizing the damage from other teams. We’ve had a lot of gaudy scores and our pitching depth is another thing I see.
“We’ve been fortunate, too. A little bit of luck, playing a little bit better and kids (did) not get down on themselves or give up when it was ugly early.”
“Gaudy” perfectly sums up the Indians’ numbers as of late. Lake Central has scored at least eight runs in each of the 13 wins during this hot stretch.
“We’re getting our runners in more. At the beginning of the season, we left a lot of people on base. We’re doing that a lot better,” outfielder Steve Fulk said. “Our top of the lineup is doing really good, and so is our bottom. Our bottom is starting to do it.”
Among players with at least 50 at-bats, the Indians have four hitters with a batting average above .435.
“Once we start hitting as a team, it’s a hitting streak,” said utility player Brenden Seren, who has a .438 average and just missed out on the cycle on Tuesday. “We just put the bat on the ball, hard.”
The stacked lineup includes Ryan Burvan (.513 average, 31 RBI), Alec Olund (.444 average, 27 RBI), Nick Kellams (.443 average, nine doubles) and Seren.
But it hasn’t been all hitting. Sandor said before the season started that the depth of the pitching staff would be a strength. That has played out. The Indians have used 10 pitchers and have a staff ERA of 2.98.
“Our pitching depth has allowed us to hang around,” Sandor said. “We run two or three guys out a game and we continue to bring them back later in the week. Things have kind of worked.”
The tough start has become a thing of the past.
“We’re not putting each other down. We’re picking each other up,” Seren said. “When we make a mistake, we just move on. We look at each other, make that eye contact and say ‘hey, get it out of your head. You’ll make the next play.’ Our chemistry has been building up like crazy. We’ve been working as a team. It’s been awesome.
“It’s been a lot of fun. You can feel it through the players. All of the energy has kicked up. It’s not, we’re sad because we lost. We’re feeling good because of the wins. We’re playing as a team.”
A formula the team hopes to carry over in the coming weeks.
“Our goal is to get better and see what some guys can do,” Sandor said. “We are baby-stepping and getting better.”
At exactly the right time.