Versailles stayed unbeaten against Fort Loramie and looks forward to an exciting month and climax to the anticipation of many…that they have all the tools necessary to make noise in Division III baseball.
Versailles – Coach Ryan Schlater and sophomore pitcher Cole Niekamp had that cheshire cat look following Saturday’s masterful 2-1 win over non-conference Ft. Loramie in the opening game of the Zac Richards Classic.
Actually, they had the same look DURING the game…a look of knowing you’re pretty good, pretty experienced, and pretty confident in their ability to achieve some goals.
Niekamp, a 6’2″ righthander pitched a one-hitter and allow Loramie just a lone run in the top of the fifth inning. His fastball lived up to his nickname, “Smoke”, and his breaking ball was sharp and accurate. When you have those two things working for you in high school baseball it’s not that hard to look and feel confident.
“I made a mistake with a changeup to their first baseman,” he said, speaking of his near no-hitter.
That’s significant, of course, because for the second time in as many weeks Loramie freshman, Jared Middendorf, as impressive, limiting the Tigers to just four hits and single runs of their own in the first and third inning.
“He didn’t throw hard,” said Schlater of Middendorf. “But he threw strikes and he mixed his pitches well. He does a good job for them.”
But to the question asked of Schlater…that with all the success of Versailles sports in football and basketball over the years, why is it that it’s in baseball where the same athletes appear to have more fun?
“Well, who wouldn’t have fun being outside on a day like this?” he countered. “But yeah, I think the kids appreciate the other sports for their importance to the school and community throughout the year; but I think every one of them looks forward to playing baseball when spring comes.”
And this year, in particular, they may have so much more to yet look forward to, having been singled out earlier in the week on Press Pros as one of the presumptive favorites not only to win the MAC conference, but win deep in the DIII tournament to come later, as well.
“Well, we have a good group of kids,” says Schlater. “We have talent, we have experience, and we have kids who have tough game experience in other sports as well. We obviously have pitching, we’re hitting .411 as a team coming into today’s game, and we have a couple of “super sophs” in Cole and Keaton McEldowney. Both of them have the advantage of having played full seasons a year ago as freshmen. They have more experience than a lot of sophomores.”
This is a team with swagger, not just confidence. Senior Brett McEldowney, a 6’5″ third baseman, made a diving back-hand stab of a ground ball in the top of the sixth to deny Loramie a would-be scoring threat to tie the game. No problem…he coolly got to his feet and threw out the runner by three steps.
“Might not have got it had I been an inch shorter,” McEldowney admitted. “It just kind of stuck there in the end of my glove.”
But the real confidence seems to come from the middle of the infield, where strikes, and good strikes, seem to be mantra of capable arms on the Tigers’ pitching staff.
“I feel good,” said Niekamp, who missed some time last year with some physical miseries. “My back is good now, my arm is fine, and this IS fun to be out here with some cousins and friends just playing baseball.”
Combined with the fact of talent, and his rising stock as one of the area’s best collegiate pitching prospects, Niekamp has a lot to play for.
“I really don’t care about the attention I get,” he admits. “I just want to play and enjoy this with my team.”
They were 8-0 after their win over Loramie with a game later in the day against Turpin…and a big week and month upcoming against the other presumptive favorites in the MAC, Coldwater, Recovery, and Minster.
“It’s a good time, and in this weather there’s nothing you could enjoy more,” assures Ryan Schlater.
No offense intended to the other sports at Versailles, but he swears…they’re just happier playing baseball!