TERRE HAUTE —
The Terre Haute North-Terre Haute South high school baseball series wasn’t an inning old last week before T.J. Collett of the Patriots lashed a run-scoring single.
That hit helped the Patriots take a 2-0 lead, but in the top of the second inning a three-run double by Justin Jenkins sparked the visiting Braves to a four-run inning.
North tied the score in the bottom of the second inning, Collett driving in another run. And just before rain caused the game to be suspended, South called Logan Ames in from its bullpen for some solid pitching.
Not bad for a trio of freshmen. And the weekend hadn’t even started yet.
On Friday, Jenkins came up with the tying run at third base and immediately got a pitch he could hit to the outfield for a clutch sacrifice fly as the Braves came from behind to win the suspended game.
Befor the next game, Collett could be seen in the North dugout giving a pep talk to his pitcher — who went out and pitched a two-hit complete game — and then scorched a 380-foot line drive for a double that led to one of North’s runs.
And on Saturday, in Big Four tournament play, West Vigo’s freshman shortstop Jordan Schaffer led an infield that turned five double plays — very likely a Big Four record — against South, while Northview used its own freshman shortstop, Tucker Stewart, in support of freshman pitcher Nathan Thomas; all Thomas did was shut down Big Four leader North for two innings, including a strikeout of the ever-dangerous Collett, before that game too was suspended by the weather.
Timbuk3, anyone? Those are some pretty bright futures.
“When’s the last time you’ve seen that many freshmen in the Big Four [tournament],” coach Steve DeGroote of West Vigo asked rhetorically this week.
“That’s a strong group,” echoed coach Scott McDonald of Northview. “All the Big Four teams have a tremendous group of kids.”
“Wabash Valley-wide, we’ve got a major youth movement,” said coach Shawn Turner of North. “It’s not that the seniors we have aren’t strong, but every team is playing a lot of young kids.”
Turner is playing just one right now, but one that’s making quite an impact. Collett went into this week’s games for the Patriots having already hit eight homers and is averaging more than two RBIs per game.
“He’s been everything we thought he would be and a lot more,” Turner said. “He’s a hard worker, a special hitter, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised how well he’s adapted defensively.
“He’s had success at every level he’s played, but that hasn’t come without a lot of hard work and effort,” the Patriot coach continued. “He’s never satisfied … and all the kids on the team respect him and want him in the lineup. They like playing with him.”
Jenkins grabbed the center field job at South right away, and Ames quickly became a valuable member of the Braves’ pitching rotation, coach Kyle Kraemer noted.
“We’ve been surprised with [Jenkins’] performance, but yet it doesn’t surprise me,” Kraemer said. “He grew up with a baseball dad [Justin is the son of Rose-Hulman coach Jeff Jenkins] and he has all the intangibles you usually have to teach.
“He gets great jump, he always knows where to throw the ball, he’s the ultimate defensive outfielder,” the South coach continued. “Offensively he’s been a great leadoff hitter, he runs extremely well, he’s an extremely good bunter … he’s what you want out of a senior, and we’re getting it from a freshman.”
Jenkins and Ames have played on the same summer team with Collett, and both Turner and Kraemer see the advantages to their summer schedules.
“[Jenkins and Ames] both have played a lot of baseball,” Kraemer said. “[Ames] needs to get his mechanics under control, but then he’ll be awfully good.”
An injury has prevented Ben Girton from also making an impact as a Northview freshman, McDonald said, but he’s certainly happy with the two that have made his regular lineup so far.
“Nathan [Thomas has] been a tremendous help for us,” the coach said. “A couple of pitchers weren’t able to throw for us this spring, and he’s taken on some good teams and pitched extremely well.
“Tucker is extremely athletic,” added McDonald, noting that senior Craig Peters is the Knights’ usual shortstop but that Stewart would find a spot in the lineup. “He can play anywhere, and he pitches as well. Both [Thomas and Stewart] have got nice live arms.”
Schaffer was the only freshman in the West Vigo starting lineup Saturday but he’s not exactly a newcomer, DeGroote noted. He was practicing with the varsity team before he was even in high school — “he’s a gym rat of baseball,” the coach said — and will fill many roles before he graduates.
“He gave up playing with his summer team to practice with us,” DeGroote said of Schaffer. “He can really field ground balls, he’s got a good stick and his arm is developing — by next year I could see him pitching in relief.”
There might still be time this season for several other freshmen to earn varsity time at West Vigo too, DeGroote indicated, talking about Brycen Scank, David Fiddler, Dakota Short and Clayton O’Neal to name a few.
“I’m really happy with our freshman class,” the coach concluded. “They’ve all got something to offer.”
There’s lots of potential star power coming for all four teams, in other words, meaning the annual tradition of a combined 80 or more wins among them is likely to continue.
“Who knows what the cap is for these kids?” McDonald said.
“I just know I’m going to have to worry about them for years to come,” added DeGroote.