By KEVIN HARRIS
FLOYDS KNOBS —
At the start of the 2013 high school baseball season, two of the three Class 4A teams in the area — Jeffersonville and New Albany — were getting the most attention.
The Red Devils and the Bulldogs were both ranked in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 4A preseason poll, as Jeff was second and New Albany was eighth. Each team has at least one player who has signed a national letter of intent to play NCAA Division I baseball next year.
However, with the 2013 campaign about to enter its third week, the other Class 4A team in the area has the better record.
Floyd Central currently sports a 9-0 record, which is the best start in coach Casey LaDuke’s 15-year tenure at the Highlanders’ helm. Floyd Central has a shot of getting ranked when the next coaches’ poll comes out.
“If we did get overshadowed, I like it,” LaDuke said. “But I’ve told the kids that we’ve been ranked before and you get that target on your back [when you get ranked]. They’re going to be ready for you, and you’re going to have to play your best game every time you step on the field.
“[Jeff and New Albany] have the highly-recruited kids, more than our kids were. But I’ve got six kids who are going to play college ball.”
One of the big reasons the Highlanders are undefeated right now is their offense. They are averaging 9.7 runs per game, and they have scored in double digits four times this season. Floyd Central has tallied at least 10 runs in each of its past three victories.
The Highlanders’ hot bats have helped them collect victories over some really good teams. Those opponents include the Red Devils (6-5), perennial Class 4A power Fort Wayne Carroll (3-0), Class 2A No. 1 and defending 2A state champion Northfield (9-2), Class 2A No. 10 Forest Park (20-0) and archrival New Albany (10-5). The win over the Bulldogs happened on Wednesday night at Mount Tabor Field.
LaDuke gives two reasons for the Highlanders’ explosive lineup.
“I think it’s just hard work and talent,” he said. “We’re not doing anything different as coaches. We haven’t changed our philosophy of hitting since I’ve been here. It’s just the talent. All the way through our lineup, we have kids who are capable of hitting the ball.”
Floyd Central senior right fielder Kyle Neafus says the Highlanders have used their power to their advantage in producing runs. But they know how to play small ball as well.
“We have quite a few power hitters on this team,” Neafus said. “But we know our jobs. If there is a runner on first [base] and it’s early in the game, we know we’re going to have to bunt him over to get them in scoring position.
“We’re all determined to get on base because if we get on base, we know we can score.”
LaDuke does not give all the credit to his team’s offense for the great start.
The veteran manager is relatively pleased with his squad’s pitching and very happy with Floyd Central’s defense.
Senior Kyle Sipes leads the Highlander pitching staff with a 3-0 record. As for the defense, Floyd Central has committed 10 errors this year and has gone errorless in four victories.
“Our pitchers have been coached very well. They’re not the overpowering type like the other teams have, but they’re competitive. They’ve been solid for us. We’ve played pretty good defense,” LaDuke said. “To be 9-0, you’ve got to be doing most of the things right. You are not going to be winning many games even if one thing is wrong. We’ve got things to work on, but I think we’ve been doing a lot of things well.”
Another factor that has helped the Highlanders during their 9-0 start is their experience. Floyd Central has eight seniors on its roster, which includes Neafus, Sipes, Bryce Smith, Connor Curry, who leads the team in batting average, Derek DeSpain, Jacob Snodgrass, Cody Sunderhaus and Garrett Ruttle. Curry has been a starter since he was a freshman, while several of the other seniors have started since they were sophomores. Sunderhaus is currently out of the lineup with a broken hand, and LaDuke says he will be out for two to three weeks.
“They know what to expect and I’ve always said that you can’t coach experience,” LaDuke said. “They’ve been there before. They’re familiar with our schedule. They know if we don’t do things right, we are going to get beat.”
Sipes credits LaDuke’s guidance the past few years in getting the Highlander seniors ready to persevere this season.
“Coach has done a pretty good job preparing us over the last few years,” Sipes said. “We’ve been young and a little inexperienced in the past. But with playing all of these tough teams in the past, I think we find ways to win now.”
Despite the fast start, the Highlanders still have a lot of difficult games left this season.
The Hoosier Hills Conference is the strongest it has been in recent memory, and Floyd Central still has to play league foes Jennings County, Bedford North Lawrence and Seymour in the regular season. Those teams along with Jeff and New Albany are in the Highlanders’ Class 4A sectional. Floyd Central also will have a rematch with the Bulldogs on Monday, May 6 in the first round of the HHC Tournament at Mount Tabor Field.
The Highlanders’ remaining nonconference slate includes archrival Providence, which also is undefeated, Louisville St. Xavier, Heritage Hills, Bloomington North and Bloomington South.
Neafus and the rest of the Floyd Central players are trying not to look too far ahead.
“We always have to take it one at-bat at a time,” Neafus said. “We know how to pick each other up. We know what we can do and we know what we’re capable of doing. If we go three-up and three-down, we know that in the next inning we can come back and put a couple of hits together and score a couple of runs. That’s just our mentality.”
LaDuke is attempting to keep his team focused by stressing to his players to have an even-keel attitude.
“I’ve told them you can’t get too high on the wins and you can’t get too low on the losses because, like everybody in all the other team sports, it comes down to sectional, no matter what we do,” he said. “Right now, this is fun and we’re enjoying it. But we know we’ve got to still practice hard and try to get better.
“With the blind draw in the sectional, there are no bonus points for a good season. Basically, we can go undefeated, and still in the sectional, Jeff is waiting there, New Albany is still waiting there and you’ve got Seymour with their really good pitcher [Zack Brown] waiting there, and you can’t look past Jennings County and Bedford.”
Sipes says the sectional championship, which the Highlanders have not won since 2004, is the goal the Highlanders want to accomplish the most.
“Our goal obviously is to win the sectional at first, and see where we can go from there,” Sipes said. “But we have a tough sectional.”
FLOYD CENTRAL’S FIRST NINE GAMES
Date Opponent Score
March 29 at Louisville Southern W, 13-2/6 inn.
March 30 South Dearborn W, 5-2
March 30 Ft. Wayne Carroll W, 3-0
April 3 Jeffersonville W, 6-5
April 5 Northfield W, 9-2
April 6 Columbus East W, 4-2
April 6 Madison W, 17-3/5 inn.
April 8 at Forest Park W, 20-0/5 inn.
April 10 at New Albany W, 10-5
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Drew Reich, Charlestown
Reich tossed a no-hitter in Charlestown’s 7-0 win over Madison Shawe on Wednesday, April 3, then followed it up with a one-hitter and struck out 13 batters as the Pirates defeated Eastern 7-0 for a Mid-Southern Conference victory last Monday.
LAST WEEK’S OTHER TOP PERFORMANCES
• Garrett Sherrell, New Albany: Last Saturday, Sherrell threw a no-hitter, striking out 10 batters, and belted two doubles as the Bulldogs defeated Lowell (Mich.) 4-1. Later in the day, he went 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs as New Albany beat Hoosier Hills Conference rival Seymour, 13-4.
• Josh Vollstedt, Borden: Vollstedt went 3-for-4 with a double and knocked in four runs as the Braves defeated Clarksville 5-4 in 10 innings last Saturday in Game 2 of a doubleheader.
• Brooks Howell, Silver Creek: Howell had two doubles, including the game-winning two-RBI double with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, to help the Dragons to a 5-4 MSC triumph over Salem last Monday.
• Cody Reister, Henryville: Reister hit a double and a home run and was the winning pitcher in the Hornets’ 14-9 win over Corydon Central last Saturday in the opener of a doubleheader.
• Andrew Hunt, Providence: Hunt surrendered just one hit as Providence beat Crawford County 11-1 in five innings on Wednesday, April 3. Hunt also had two hits in the Pioneers’ 5-4 win over Jeff last Tuesday and two more in their 13-2 defeat of Eastern last Wednesday.
• Trey Fulton, Floyd Central: Fulton with 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBIs as the Highlanders defeated defending Class 2A state champion Northfield 9-2 last Friday.
• Drew Ellis, Jeffersonville: Ellis blasted two home runs in the Red Devils’ 5-4 loss at Providence last Tuesday.
• Shane Williams, Eastern: Williams went 3-for-4 with the Musketeers’ only RBI in a 2-1 loss to Springs Valley on Thursday, April 4.
— Sports editor Greg Mengelt