Baseball state finals: Nick Kellams gets it started for Lake Central
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or email@example.com June 14, 2012 10:58PM
Lake Central's Nick Kellams tries to connect on a pitch late in the game of the semi-state matchup Saturday, June 9, 2012. | Erik A. Markov~For Sun-Times Media
Class 3A: Western (24-9) vs. Brebeuf Jesuit (21-8), 6:30 p.m. CT
Class 1A: Lafayette Central Catholic (30-4) vs. Shakamak (27-6), noon CT
Class 2A: Northfield (28-5-1) vs. Evansville Mater Dei (18-13-1), 3 p.m. CT
Class 4A: Lake Central (31-1) vs. Roncalli (23-8-1), 6 p.m. CT
Updated: July 16, 2012 6:20AM
Nick Kellams knows his job.
Doesn’t mean he has to love it.
So every time Lake Central coach Jeff Sandor reminds his leadoff hitter that it’s up to Kellams to make the pitcher throw a lot of pitches, to allow the batters following him to see his whole array of pitches and arm angles, to wear him out a bit, well…
“I cringe a little,” Kellams said.
It’s not that Kellams isn’t good at it. In fact, he’s terrific at it. Few batters in the region are quite as patient at the plate, or quite as good as fouling away two-strike pitches.
The guy just wants to swing, is all.
“I like to jump on the first pitch — it’s usually the best one you’re going to get,” Kellams said. “But being a leadoff hitter, you’ve got to see as many pitches as possible. I’ve adapted to it. Anything to help my team out.”
For what it’s worth — and really, it’s worth a lot — his teammates are grateful for the last-second scouting report Kellams’ lengthy at-bats allow. Especially against unfamiliar pitchers in the postseason, such as Roncalli ace Colin Hawk in Saturday’s Class 4A state championship game at Victory Field.
“Nick just does a phenomenal job battling,” Sandor said. “When he’s on the ninth pitch with a 1-2 count and he sprays a single to left, the second and third and fourth hitters have to go give him a big hug after that. He made that pitcher work, and allowed them to see the whole kitchen sink. A lot of leadoff hitters, they swing at that first or second pitch, then all you’ve seen is a fastball.”
Kellams is the ideal leadoff man. The junior has at least 16 more at-bats than anyone on the team — 107 in 32 games — but has the fewest strikeouts — six — of any of Lake Central’s regulars.
He has struck out just once this postseason — and it took Penn’s Chad Whitmer 11 pitches to do it.
“I don’t strike out very much, that’s one thing I’m very hard on myself about,” Kellams said. “When I strike out, it’s not a good sight. I take pride in that, so I work on my two-strike approach more than my regular approach. I choke up and literally anything that’s close, I’ll swipe at it and tip it out. I’ll have some ugly swings and everyone will laugh, but really, at that point, it’s just about spoiling pitches.”
The good thing for Kellams is, he only leads off once a game. Sandor usually takes off the shackles the rest of the game. For good reason, too — Kellams is good at more than just getting foul tips. He’s batting .402 on the season, with a .545 on-base percentage, 16 RBI and a team-high 33 runs scored. He’s even hit a couple of home runs — on first-inning, first-pitch fastballs, mind you.
“Once in a while, you sneak that in,” Sandor said.
Last season, Kellams was Lake Central’s No. 7 hitter, a sneaky little lefty after the Indians’ powerful middle of the order. He looked like a welcome breather for opposing pitchers, but knocked a few off the wall here and there. But he then spent the summer leading off for his travel ball team, Apex, and caught Sandor’s eye.
Next year, he’ll have yet another key role — he’ll be Lake Central’s ace. As the Indians’ No. 3 pitcher this season, he was 5-0 with a 1.93 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 29 innings.
Of course, with Jimmy McNamara and Taylor Lehnert headed to Central Michigan next season, he has awfully big cleats to fill.
“Yeah, you’re telling me,” Kellams said with a laugh.
But while Kellams’ teammates have been learning a pitcher’s arsenal and tendencies by watching him at the plate, Kellams has been learning even more by hanging around two elite pitchers for so long.
“They’re like my best friends, so I listen to them all the time,” Kellams said. “I’ve learned a lot from them. I’m ready.”