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Vikings rout Warsaw in home-opener

PITCH: Huntington North's Elliott Lesperance fires a pitch in during the first inning of Thursday's win over Warsaw.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@h-ponline.com

While the Huntington North baseball team pounded out 15 hits and cruised to a fairly comfortable 15-6 win over Warsaw in their home-opener on Thursday, head coach Jarod Hammel’s demeanor after the game was anything but celebratory.

For a Viking team with high ambitions for the 2018 season, Thursday’s performance in-between the lines wasn’t enough. Squandered opportunities saw the hosts fail to end the game via run rule in both the fifth and sixth innings and mishaps in the field and on the mound kept the Tigers alive into the seventh inning.

To Hammel, Thursday’s performance wasn’t enough.

“It’s a win. We kind of cash it in at that and move on I guess,” Hammel said. “We had some alarming signs tonight. Things that concern me. But things I know these guys will address. They’re good guys. They’re well-intentioned. They’re high school kids and they want to get better.

“That’s our biggest asset. Aside from any skills they bring to the table, they’re not satisfied tonight. I know they’re not. I don’t think I’m probably going to have to say a lot. I think they’re going to kind of know Viking baseball isn’t meant to be played in two hours and twenty minutes.”

The positives for the Vikings came at the plate and on the base paths. Huntington North jumped all over Warsaw from the get-go, forcing starter Caden Bowers out of the game just three innings in. Reliever Drake Graham fared even worse as he failed to record an out while allowing four runs as part of a five-run fifth for the hosts.

Huntington North also racked up 10 stolen bases and forced the Tigers into mistakes defensively as the guests committed three errors and had five wild pitches on the night.

“We really fell back on tonight our aggressiveness on the bases,” Hammel said. “That was important. Not just swiping bags, but takings extra bases when the defense would hand them to us. We’re excited about that. We also had some letdowns on the bases tonight, things that a lot of people wouldn’t see. Things that we’ve instructed the kids to do, freed them up to do. They are owed some more time to keep learning. They’re going to get better.

”But frankly, this was not our best night tonight. There’s good baseball ahead from these guys, though. They’re going to keep learning, they’re going to keep competing. There’s a lot to be excited about.”

The negatives, however, saw the Vikings fail to plate one more run leading 11-2 in the bottom of the fourth, putting themselves in position for a run-rule victory. With one out and a runner on third, back-to-back strikeouts from Ian Broderick and Nathan Hall pushed the game into the fifth.

In the top-half of the fifth, Liam Patton connected on his second homer of the night, a three-run blast to centerfield, cutting the margin to 11-5 and bringing the Tigers back into the contest.

A single from Collin Landrum was followed by a double from Ian McCutcheon, bringing the former around to score. Jarret Gray’s single into right field plated McCutcheon after the latter stole third, pushing the hosts ahead 13-5.

Levi Bennett, Zach Daugherty and Trey Williams would load the bases with a single, single and walk, respectively, bringing up Keegan Bartrom with one out in the frame.

The juniors drew a bases-loaded walk to plate a run and again move Huntington North within a run of ending the game.

But, like the previous inning, the opportunity would be squandered as back-to-back grounders ended the frame. Brockerick’s hard-hit grounder to the shortstop led to a throw home for a force out before Hall’s grounder to the shortstop turned into a 6-4 fielder’s choice, ending the inning.

Warsaw again pulled a run back in the top of the sixth, but Huntington North again responded. McCutcheon would score on a double from Gray, pushing the lead to 15-6. Gray would advance to third on a stolen base, but Daugherty would be unable to bring him in as he grounded out back to the pitcher.

Broderick shut the door on the Tigers in the top of the seventh, inducing a pair of groundouts before striking out Matt Shapior to secure the save.

For Hammel, earning a convincing win despite his side not playing its best could be seen as a positive moving forward.

“In a way, it might be. Ultimately, it’s about that May/June product,” he said. “We preach that to our kids. If this is a step closer to a May/June product, then I’m thankful for that. If this just goes down in the win column and it’s a game that’s forgotten about, then I’m dissatisfied. We’ll look back at this one and say ‘Did this game make us better or was it just another win…where we’re happy we won by nine runs.’ We’re always looking back. We’re always more excited to look forward.”

Gray finished 4-for-5 with three runs and two RBIs on the night to pace the Viking offense. Bennett and Daugherty each had three-hit nights with the former crossing home four times and the latter twice. Bartrom notched a trio of RBIs.

Landrum finished 1-for-3 with a pair of walks, two runs and three stolen bases on the night. Williams finished 1-for-1 with a run, two RBIs and three walks. In total, the Vikings drew nine walks on the night.

On the mound, Elliott Lesperance earned the win, going four innings and giving up four hits and two runs, one earned, with a walk and a strikeout. Broderick earned his save after going three innings and giving up five hits and four runs, all earned, on two walks and four strikeouts.

The Vikings will have plenty of opportunities to correct any wrongs discovered on Thursday as they begin a stretch of seven games in eight days on Saturday with a doubleheader at Lake Central against the hosts and Lawrence Central.

Pitching will be the biggest focus for Hammel and his staff moving forward the next week.

“We’re going to get into a stretch of our season where our pitching, we’ve played mainly weekend doubleheaders, our pitching is really going to be challenged,” he said. “We’re going to have to stretch some guys out to get through some days. We’re going to play quality opponents. Our starting pitching, in particular, is going to have to step it up a little bit.

“We’re going to play a doubleheader on Saturday against two great teams. We’re going to come back Monday and play a really good team back at home and it doesn’t get any easier as next week goes on. I think we’re primarily going to be taxed on the mound. Hopefully, we keep gets healthy, keep guys hungry and keep growing.”