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May 4, 2013

Hicks shuts down South to salvage split for North

TERRE HAUTE — The longer the high school baseball games went Friday night at Terre Haute South, the clearer one fact became.

Austin Hicks was not coming off the mound for Terre Haute North.

“I told the coaches, ‘I’m finishing this game,’ ” said Hicks, who pitched the last three innings of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference game suspended by weather Thursday — and lost 7-6 — before pitching a two-hitter in the Patriots’ 5-1 win in the regularly scheduled game. “This is my game for the seniors.”

And somebody else.

Debbie Hicks passed away five years ago Thursday, probably one of the reasons her son wasn’t one of the pitchers coach Shawn Turner used that night. He was on the hill for all 10 innings on Friday, however, and not very happy after the first three of them.

“I was really upset,” Hicks said after the second game, “but I have great teammates that calmed me down. I had to focus.”

After yielding an unearned tying run in the top of the fifth — two errors, two hit batsmen — Hicks was touched for the eventual winning run on a two-out double by Conner Shipley in the sixth.

North’s ace — that first game was Hicks’ first loss of the season, and he’s now beaten the two teams leading the MIC — looked more like himself in the top of the seventh of that first game, however, and after a shaky first inning he was even better in the second game.

North’s first-game loss could be at least partially attributed to poor defense — “You put seven errors on the board, you shouldn’t expect to win,” Turner said — but the Patriots got the lead in the third inning of the second contest thanks to a South miscue.

With two out, both Gabe Sevigny and Zack Milam reached on ground balls hit so slowly there was no play available. Then a wind-blown fly ball was dropped, allowing both runners to score.

The Patriots got an earned run in the top the third — a one-out single by Nick Long, a sacrifice and a run-scoring single by Hicks himself — but South matched that in the bottom of the inning on a walk, a ground out and a two-out single by Austin Slover.

Consecutive pitches in the top of the fifth that traveled a combined 750 feet or more — a double to the center-field fence by T.J. Collett, then a homer to left-center by Sam Wolf — made the score 5-1, and Hicks retired the last 10 South batters in order, catching a popup himself to end the game.

“That was a very gutsy performance by [the Patriots’] pitcher,” coach Kyle Kraemer of the Braves said afterward. “We had him at 150 pitches, with about 30 minutes of rest [between games], so I tip my hat to the kid … and when you have more errors than you do hits, you’re not going to win many games.”

Hicks had needed 58 pitches for the last three innings of the suspended game, then 24 more in the first inning of the second contest. From that point, however, he threw just 59 pitches over the last six innings — although that’s still 141 for the night.

“I threw 127 in one game as a 13-year-old,” Hicks said, “and I had a game with 117 earlier this year. My arm can take it.”

“I had a number [of pitches] in mind, and he stayed under it — although that number was pretty high,” Turner said. “He wanted to stay in, and he didn’t give us any reason to want to take him out. I think I probably didn’t get him loose enough before the first game.”

The split leaves both teams still near the top of the conference standings — South is 8-2, Center Grove 7-2 and North 7-3 — with two series remaining for each of them. South hosts Center Grove for two games at 10 a.m. May 11.

“We didn’t play our way out of or into the MIC championship,” Kraemer said. “We control our own destiny, but Center Grove is awfully good.”

The North victory Friday is the one that determined the team that keeps the traveling glove trophy, and also gives the Patriots a 1-0 record in the Big Four Tournament that continues this morning at North. West Vigo and South play at 10 a.m., followed by North against Northview.

“I’m throwing [today],” Hicks said. “That’s probably just the adrenaline talking, but I feel like I could.”


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