Bob Kyle really hopes his Rockville High School baseball team can win its semistate game Saturday at Kokomo against Washington Township.
Not exactly earth-shaking news, but not exactly the usual reasons either.
“As a coach, you’ll get teams where you can’t wait for the season to end,” the veteran coach told the Tribune-Star this week. “This is a team I don’t want to leave.”
The 2014 Rox are one of Kyle’s favorite teams for several reasons.
“They get along, they’re fun, we have fun at practice … and they know when to get serious,” Kyle said.
They are also 27-3, winners of 15 straight games, and the team that knocked off the state’s top-ranked Class A team at the Carroll (Flora) Regional last weekend. So the fifth-ranked Rox’s chances against ninth-ranked Washington on Saturday don’t look all that bad — and neither the coach nor his players are too surprised.
“We kinda knew from the beginning,” senior catcher John Brown said. “We messed with coach every day about how good we were going to be.
“He didn’t believe us, and he worked us hard. And after our first loss against Attica, we said, ‘Maybe we’re not that good after all.’ ”
“This is a team that’s wanted it, for sure,” added senior Dalton Clark, part of an outstanding pitching staff. “We thought we had a chance [to get this far].”
Brown hasn’t entirely got his coach figured out. Kyle too knew the Rox had a chance to be pretty good, and it started with that pitching staff. Clark is 10-1, including a 17-strikeout no-hitter in sectional play, and sophomore newcomer Dalton Laney is 12-1 with a phenomenal earned run average.
Last Saturday, Laney pitched a two-hitter and didn’t allow an earned run in Rockville’s 3-1 win over No. 1 Frontier and Clark came back with a three-hit shutout in a 10-0, six-inning win over Monroe Central in the regional championship game.
“We knew going in [to the season] we would have pitching,” Kyle said, “but we had pitching last year too. Last year we couldn’t hit the baseball, but these guys spent days and hours all winter [working on hitting] and that’s proved to be the difference.”
Indeed, the Rockville offense doesn’t have to take much of a back seat to its pitching staff.
Approximate batting averages for its starters are .290 for leadoff hitter and right fielder Ben Cunningham, .350 for center fielder Tyler Rapp, .460 for Laney (who plays shortstop when not pitching), .430 for Brown, .415 for infielder Craig Overpeck, .340 for Clark (who also plays third base), .310 for infielder Kyle Paddock, .300 for infielder/designated hitter Cam Helderman and .350 for left fielder Lucas Monroe.
Tyler Knoblett, the team’s only other senior besides Brown and Clark (yes, the Rox might be good in 2015 — and 2016 — too), is strong defensively at first base when Laney pitches, Brandon Cooper is another .300 hitter as a reserve outfielder, and Jacob Bassett and Beau Buell have been valuable as courtesy runners.
“Our pitching and hitting have come through, and our fielding has been there,” Clark said. “And most of us have played together since we were really little, so we’ve been being behind each other that long.”
“This is the closest I’ve been with any of the kids on the team this year,” Brown added.
Brown, of course, knows the Rockville pitchers better than anybody and he likes what he sees.
“They don’t make me work much,” he said. “They don’t throw it in the dirt — unless it’s a pitch they’re supposed to throw in the dirt. We’ve had games where we’ve let them down a little bit [defensively], but this team always finds a way to make up for that.”
“I think fastball location is probably my strength,” said Clark, “and movement on the ball is [Laney’s] strength.”
“We’ve been able to throw a lot of fastballs right by [opposing hitters],” said Brown of his two aces, both of whom probably throw in at least the mid-80s, “and if they catch up with that, we can go offspeed.”
The Rockville players, naturally, are excited about their possibilities this week — and possibly next.
“We can’t overlook anybody,” Brown noted, “but I think if we can beat the No. 1 team, we can probably go up against anyone.”
“I think it’s awesome,” Clark added. “We don’t really have a secret, we just play well.”
“The key for us is to be ourselves,” Kyle said. “Don’t change anything, believe in yourself … we have a motto: ‘Work hard, and everything works out.’ ”
“My dream has always been to walk into that dugout at Victory Field [for the state championship game],” Brown concluded, “and it could be a week away.”