MANCHESTER – The start of the 2016 Central League baseball season wasn’t what the Manchester Indians were expecting.
Some close losses early on put Dave Miller’s club behind league leaders Mount Wolf and Stoverstown.
While the season didn’t begin the way the team had hoped, the Indians have certainly played up to their expectations of late.
Tuesday evening, Manchester played host to Stoverstown in a pivotal showdown. The Indians got just enough hits and made some much-needed defensive plays.
A strong showing on the mound by Michael Houseal didn’t hurt, either.
Houseal struck out eight while allowing just five hits over seven innings. The right-hander survived an anxious sixth inning by fanning two around a bases-loaded infield single to earn the victory in a 4-3 triumph.
“Early in the season we just weren’t hitting like we are now,” said Houseal, who picked up his fourth victory of the campaign for Manchester (16-8). “And we weren’t fielding like we are now.”
The defense was Houseal’s best friend Tuesday. Big plays in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings proved decisive. In the fifth, Stoverstown’s Levi Krause was thrown out at second attempting to stretch a single into a double with two outs.
An inning later, it was shortstop Logan Allison who stopped a grounder from reaching left field with the bases loaded. While the Tigers scored a run on the play, Allison’s stop prevented the visitors from tying the score.
“That stop by Logan just saved everything,” Houseal said. “If he doesn’t stop that ball, they end up scoring two runs and then the morale goes down. So you never know.”
Then in the seventh, with Daryl Harang (two runs scored) on deck, the Indians turned a grounder by Austin Botts into a game-ending double play.
Houseal, who labored over the final three innings, could finally exhale a sigh of relief.
“I had good stuff,” he said. “But I didn’t have great stuff. That relay at second (in the fifth) got us out of the inning and we turned a couple double plays. The defense (Tuesday) is what really saved us.”
The Indians were able to get ahead early on, which never hurts. Jonah Latshaw led a trio of singles to start the first inning before scoring on a sacrifice fly by Dan Sepic. But Tiger starter Jordan Lehman was able to get a big double-play grounder off the bat of Austin Allison to escape the inning with just one run allowed.
After the Tigers took the lead in the second on RBI singles by Jon Brubaker and Joe Capobianco, the home team evened the score in the third when Austin Allison drove in his Logan Allison with a sacrifice fly.
Manchester took the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth after a walk to Sepic was followed by back-to-back singles and an error to make it 4-2.
In total, the Indians collected 10 hits off Lehman, including a pair each by Latshaw and Jason Kelly. A variety of guys have stepped up while Manchester has reeled off 10 wins over its last 11 contests. That has put a smile on Miller’s face.
“We’re playing really well right now,” Miller said. “We have a lot of confidence. Every night it’s someone different picking us up and getting the job done.”
While the Indians are flying high, the Tigers (17-7) are headed in an opposite direction. Injuries and other difficulties have made it a challenge for Tim Thoman’s club after getting off to a hot start.
“Who isn’t (injured)?,” Thoman asked with a hint of sarcasm. “Nick (Spangler) is hurt and Zach (Schuler) just got hurt tonight. Levi is hurt … so it’s a lot. And this one hurt too.”
Mount Wolf 10, Pleasureville 3: At Mount Wolf, Dan Dierdorff led the Wolves to the victory by going 2 for 3, including a double, to go with four RBIs and two runs scored. Also for the Wolves, Grant Myers went 2 for 4 with a double and two runs scored, Nick Sprenkle went 1 for 2 with two RBIs, Jesse Sargen went 1 for 2 with two runs scored and starting pitcher Adam Hoff threw six innings, striking out five, walking two and allowing two earned runs. For Pleasureville, Clint Bohn homered and added two RBIs, Eric Meisenhelder doubled and Les Castro tripled. Mount Wolf improved to 17-5-0.
Dillsburg 2, Glen Rock 0: At Glen Rock, Jesse Lovejoy led the visitors to the victory by throwing a shutout, striking out four, walking none and allowing just three hits. Dillsburg's offense was led by Joey DeLuca (3 for 4, double, RBI) and Dillan Heatwole (2 for 3, one run scored). For Glen Rock, Dan Rogers threw a complete game, striking out six and walking one.
Shiloh 7, Dover 5: At Shiloh, Ryan Stough led the visitors to the victory by going 2 for 3, including a solo homer. Also for Shiloh, Alec Gibbons went 2 for 2 with a triple and one RBI, while Jake Molison, Logan Stover and Andrew Copeland each doubled. For Dover, Austin Rickrode went 2 for 4 with a solo homer, Mike Moore went 2 for 2 with a double and one RBI and Cody Glass doubled.
Jacobus 7, Conrads 2: At Conrads, Kerry Clark led the visitors to the victory by throwing a complete game, striking out seven and walking six. Clark also connected at the plate by going 4 for 5 with a double. Also for Jacobus, Anthony Ferrell went 4 for 5, Brian Crimmel went 2 for 4 with one run and one RBI and Jed Larkin went 2 for 4, including a double, with one run and one RBI. For Conrads, Xavier Bonilla doubled with one RBI and two walks, Nick Root went 2 for 4 with a double and one run and Josh Knaub went 2 for 4 with an RBI. The visitors plated five of there seven runs in the top of the first. Jacobus improved to 18-7.
Hallam 3, Windsor 0: At Hallam, Travis Stump started the game on the mound and threw six shutout innings, striking out seven, walking one and allowing just one hit to lead the Express. Also for Hallam, Eric McNeil went 2 for 2, including a double, with one RBI, while Colby Shimmel doubled. For Windsor, Tyler Myers relieved starting pitcher Tyler Stabley in the third to complete the game, striking out four, walking one and allowing one run. Hallam, improved to 22-6.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.