By Dan Hardenbrook
The Newberry varsity baseball team was facing a great unknown as they started their season in Mackinaw City last Friday. It was the first time on a field this season, which meant the first time this year that players experienced many parts of the game.
The team’s outside practice time was limited to hitting fly balls on a corner of the school playground or in the street while. Despite limited experience and opportunities, the Indians battled in both games before falling 3-1 and 10-6.
Game one featured a duel between two pitchers who were in midseason form. Matthew Rahilly kept the contest close while the offense adjusted to full speed real pitching for the first time.
The Indians’ ace went the full game. Giving up just two hits and only three runs, while striking out 12 batters in five innings of work. The Indians looked like they were going to jump in front early, loading up the bases in the very first at bat of the season.
However, the Comets, as they would do all day, came firing back with a pair of strikeouts to keep the game scoreless. The Indians scratched a run across the board in the second on a run single by Stephen Allen that scored Ethan Salter, but things fizzled out in the 3-1 loss. Allen and Salter led the offensive attack, each going two for three in the game. Salter had a double for the big hit of the contest. Rahilly went one-for-three at the plate and Ethan Pavey reached twice. Baserunners were shut down as Mackinaw City pitchers struck out 13 Newberry hitters.
Both offenses came to life in game number two, which finished with Mackinaw City escaping with a 10-6 win. Again the Indians loaded up the bases at the start, and this time they came though on Matthew Luebkerts bases clearing double. Rahilly added a two-run triple later in the contest and freshmen Xander Stilson and Oliver Navarro combined for back-to-back base hits to add the other run for Newberry.
A tight strike zone and a lot of fielding changes hurt both pitcher’s rhythm. Both sides kept hits low but walks and passed balls and errors piled up. Ethan Pavey started for the Indians throwing three innings and giving up one hit. He issued four walks and only three of the five runs were earned; the others were set up by errors.
Luebkert, another freshman, made his first-ever pitching appearance, going two innings and allowing just one hit, five walks, and five earned runs. The pair combined for seven strikeouts in the game while Mackinaw City stole multiple bases and advanced at key points.
“You hate to lose, but I’m not sure we could’ve played any better considering the circumstances,” said Coach Dan Hardenbrook. “There’s just so much little stuff that we couldn’t work on because we are stuck inside. We haven’t done any hitting besides soft toss and tee drills. The real thing is way different and that just comes with time.”
Hardenbrook thought the team’s two-error day was outstanding. “That’s unheard of for a season opener,” he said. “There were situations we talked about in practice but couldn’t simulate and we reacted well. You can see the potential, we just need time to put it together.”
The Indians head to Cadillac Wednesday for a tough doubleheader matchup and then are off until early next week.