Starting pitching determines momentum in baseball.
Teams can ride a workhorse ace who gets into a groove for the playoffs all the way to the state finals. That gives underdogs Indian Creek and Hiawatha hope as a pair of teams streaking in the wrong direction try to unseat co-Little Ten Conference champion and Class 1A regional host Hinckley-Big Rock.
No. 4 seed Indian Creek and No. 1 seed H-BR play at 4 p.m. Wednesday, and No. 2 seed Hiawatha takes on Alden-Hebron at 7 p.m. in the nightcap at Kenny Field.
The Timberwolves are 0-6-1 since their last win April 16 against Paw Paw and the Hawks are 0-5-1 with their last win coming April 30. Meanwhile, the Royals have won four in a row. But all three teams have starting pitching that could propel them to the River Ridge Sectional.
“Momentum is different in baseball,” Indian Creek coach Joe Piekarz said. “A good performance from a starting pitcher gives you a chance and can keep you in any game.”
David Boehne turned in such a performance for the Timberwolves (8-12-1) on May 7 in a 11-10 loss to H-BR. He persevered through a rough first inning in which the Royals scored six runs to throw 62/3 innings.
The Timberwolves and Hawks are a combined 0-4 against the Royals (17-5) this year, but last week’s one-run loss to H-BR left Indian Creek with some positives.
“That was a tough loss on [May 7], but it was a lot easier to swallow than our first loss to H-BR,” said Piekarz about a 16-0 H-BR win. “It’s a lot easier to handle a one-run loss because we know we had a chance and gave it our all.
“We were able to find the little things we need to clean up. When we had two outs in the third – we gave up a bloop single, a steal and an error – and it resulted in a run. Those are the little things we can’t let happen against a good team.”
Hiawatha (9-8-2) pitchers Mike Mercado (3-0, 1.25 ERA) and Tyler Burger (2-3, 2.05 ERA) give the Hawks a solid tandem for playoff success. Alden-Hebron is the lone non-Little Ten Conference team in the H-BR Regional. The Hawks and Giants played to a 9-9, eight-inning tie Wednesday.
Without their top pitchers available and a playoff showdown this week, Hiawatha coach Sean Donnelly said he was sure “neither team wanted to show the other too much.”
It was an offensive outburst for the Hawks as sophomore catcher Will Corn (.519 batting average) leads a lineup in a late-season malaise.
“Our pitching and defense has been great lately,” Donnelly said. “It’s kept us in games. All we did at practice last week was drill hitting. We’ve been in a funk. Regionals would be a great time to break out of it.”