Baseball: Starting pitchers Bearss, Kniola, Jones leading the way in Portage’s solid start
By LaMond Pope firstname.lastname@example.org/@lamondpope April 27, 2013 8:48PM
Portage right hander Kevin Jones delivers late in the Indians' game at Crown Point Thursday April 25, 2013. Jones struck out 8 in a strong effort against the Bulldogs. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 30, 2013 2:52PM
The punch-outs kept piling up.
Five. Eight. Ten.
Someone passed word along to Portage pitcher Jacob Bearss that he was getting closer to a school record for strikeouts in a game.
“I wasn’t really trying to think about it,” Bearss said in a phone interview earlier this week. “I was just trying to focus on the game. I wanted to keep doing what I was doing.”
Bearss finished with 15 strikeouts in five innings against Clark on April 5, just one shy of the school mark.
His approach on the mound — to keep doing what he was doing — has been echoed in the performances of teammates Tyler Kniola and Kevin Jones.
The three hurlers helped the Indians to a 10-4 start.
“We are not hitting the ball like we want to hit. The last few games, we really haven’t hit. Our pitching and defense has really carried us the last five or six games,” coach Tim Pirowski said.
“To be able to know that we have three quality pitchers that can compete with anybody, that’s just huge for our confidence.”
Kniola is the senior leader of the group.
“He works ahead. He doesn’t get behind many hitters. He’s able to throw three pitches for strikes on any count for us,” Pirowski said. “He has confidence in his defense behind him and he doesn’t try to do too much.”
He is 3-1 with 19 strikeouts with a 2.73 ERA. Kniola is efficient. He threw 74 pitches in a complete-game 4-0 victory against Chesterton on April 9.
“The key to that performance was definitely not trying to overpower and strike everybody out,” Kniola said. “All I had to do was hit my spots. My defense did a really good job backing me up, so we got out of the innings really quick.”
Pirowski said Kniola is more of a pitch-to-contact pitcher. Jones is more of a strikeout pitcher.
“He’s a guy, you get a guy on second base with no outs or one out, he can strike out the next two or three guys,” Pirowski said. “With a runner on third, he’s a guy that can come out of it unscathed because he’s got the ability to strike out the next few hitters.”
Jones is 3-1 with 31 strikeouts and nine walks and a 1.59 ERA.
He went the distance in a 2-1 victory against Merrillville last Saturday and struck out the side in the seventh.
“My curveball was working, I was throwing it for a strike,” Jones said of the outing. “I had to rely on my changeup a lot more than usual.”
Portage had a reliever warming up in the fifth inning. The Indians stuck with Jones, and he finished strong.
“It wasn’t so much fun, it was nervous. I have to bear down and get the outs,” Jones said. “That’s what really matters.”
Like Jones, Bearss is a power pitcher.
“He has a good fastball and a really good curveball that he can throw for a strike. He has really good command of it,” Pirowski said. “He’s a guy that can get the strikeout when there are runners on base when you don’t necessarily want them to put it in play.”
Bearss is 3-1 with 29 strikeouts, eight walks and a 2.77 ERA.
“I’ve been able to keep my fastball down and my curveball has been working good for me,” Bearss said.
Voters in the polls have noticed Portage’s pitching. The Indians are ranked No. 5 in Class 4A in the April 22 state poll.
“It’s been a blast working all season,” Kniola said, “we’ve really built together what’s more of a family than a team.