Indian River baseball looking to win the close games in 2018

DAGSBORO – In his first season at the helm last season, head coach D.J. Long led the Indian River High varsity baseball program to a 6-12 record – a two-win improvement from the year before.

With four of those 12 losses coming by two runs or less, and three of them decided by just one run, coach Long hopes the Indians can figure out ways to win the close games this season.

“I’m excited for this year. Last year, we’d play a good team and we’ll hang with them, but then we’ll just lose by a run,” coach Long said. “We play up to that talent, but then we just don’t know how to hold on to that win. In those type of games, I want them to realize that they can play with anybody.”

Pitcher Kris Medford warms up during a first-inning pitching change, while head coach D.J. Long and the infield watches, during IR’s scrimmage against St. Mark’s Saturday afternoon (Sussex Post/Ben Heck).

This past weekend, IR hit the baseball diamond for four scrimmages to get a sneak peek into this year’s roster.

Friday, March 9 kicked off the first live-game action for the 2018 squad as they made their way over to Chincoteague (VA) for a scrimmage.

The team followed that up with a three-game play day with Cape Henlopen, St. Mark’s and Sussex Central in Georgetown Saturday, March 10.

It made for a long day, but it provided the IR coaching staff plenty of time to see what the young guys can bring to the table heading into the 2018 regular season opener Thursday, March 22.

While wins and losses don’t really mean much when it comes to preseason scrimmages, IR still felt confident after completing the four-game weekend with a pair of exhibition wins.

The action opened with a 7-4 loss at Chincoteague Friday night. All four runs were scored in the second inning, giving the Indians a 4-1 lead before three-run innings in the fourth and fifth innings handed Chincoteague the five-inning exhibition win.

Indian River’s bats came alive 10 a.m. the next morning, as IR defeated Cape Henlopen 12-5 in a four-inning morning game. Against one of Cape’s top pitchers, Zack Gelof, IR used an 11-run second-inning to pull away with the exhibition win.

Due to a tight time schedule only four innings were played, but coach Long was pleased with his hitters.

“The first game this morning, we played against Cape and we played pretty well,” coach Long said. “We came out swinging the bat. Cape is supposed to be a top team in the state this year. We faced Zack Gelof today and we hit him pretty well, which is impressive for our first few scrimmages.”

Gelof, one of Cape’s top pitchers, surrendered six hits and seven earned runs in 1.0+ innings pitched. In three innings of work, Cape junior Parker Brown surrendered another five hits and five runs (four earned) against IR’s bats.

Kyle Firle, Mark Smith, J.J. Killen (two), Cole Hitch, Tyler Bowen (two), Brock Wingate (two) and Tyler Kramer (two) each recorded hits in the win.

At noon, IR played a five-inning game against a talented St. Mark’s squad that finished 12-6 and made a DIAA semifinals appearance in the state tournament last season.

Though the team dropped a 14-1 loss in Saturday’s scrimmage, IR lost last year’s showdown with the Spartans by just one run.

“We lost to Cape by a run, we lost to St. Mark’s by a run,” coach Long said of last year’s IR squad. “You have to win those games if you want to make the playoffs. I think they saw some good things last year, then this year we have to put all of it together. Win double-digit games, that’s the goal.”

Saturday’s afternoon action wrapped up on a high note, as IR defeated Sussex Central, 15-3.

Six different IR hitters drove in at least one run, with J.J. Killen leading the way offensively.

Killen went 2-for-2 at the plate with three runs batted in. Jacob Anderson, Mark Smith and Grant Argo each drove in a pair of runs while Derek Bellamare and Aaron King each drove in one.

Central, a 10-8 team that just missed the tournament a season ago, is another team the Indians lost a close match-up to in 2017. Ahead 2-0 through five innings, Central used a six-run sixth inning to come away with a 6-2 victory last May 2.

For the 2018 season, Cole Hitch, Mark Smith, Grant Argo and Jacob Anderson have all but earned starting positions in the field.

Coach Long will lean on J.J. Killen to be his No. 1 starting pitcher but hasn’t figured out the rest of his rotation just yet.

“We’ll have Cole behind the plate; Grant will be at third; Mark will be at short; J.J. will be at first when he isn’t pitching,” Long said of his projected position players. “Then we’ll have Jacob Anderson in center. The other three spots, there are a lot of guys competing at those positions, so we’ll see how it plays out.”

He has one more play day scrimmage, this Saturday, March 17, to figure out the rest of his pitching rotation.

“We have Hodgson and James M. Bennett next Saturday, so we’ll get one more look a week before the season and figure all that out,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you who No. 2, 3, 4 are yet but J.J.’s the ace, that’s for sure.”

Though a handful of starting positions have already been named by coach Long, it’s still considered an open competition in practice.

“We already told these guys, everything’s an open competition,” he said. “Even the guys who I just named, if they don’t perform or they give no effort, then it’s the next guy up. Every time we take warm-ups, there’s two or three guys at every spot, so you have to perform, or you’ll lose the job and they know that.”

With the regular season opener against Woodbridge Thursday, March 22 on the horizon, winning games and bringing confidence and a winning baseball tradition back to Indian River is all that’s on coach Long’s mind.

“We should look good this year,” he said. “I’m excited for this season. Our goal is, I want to go above .500 and win the South. If you go above .500, and hopefully win the South, you make the playoffs and see what happens from there. I just feel like, if we make the playoffs it’ll give everybody in the program a little bit of confidence heading into each season. They haven’t had that for a while, so I want to get back to that.”

Sports Editor Ben Heck can be reached at bheck@newszap.com.

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