They’ve beaten Terre Haute North and Terre Haute South. Both in the same season.
This week the Linton Miners and the Shakamak Lakers completed the Terre Haute sweep. Monday the Miners knocked off the South Braves 9-8. The next night the Lakers pounded the North Patriots 17-1. Six days earlier Linton had won 5-0 at Terre Haute North. And while the season was still young – in the fifth game of the regular season – the Lakers tomahawked the Braves 2-1.
How often does it happen that two baseball teams from Greene County topple the big boys from Terre Haute North and South in the same season?
In Linton’s case, it never had until this year.
Shakamak has done it before. But as current Laker coach Todd Gambill said, “It’s been awhile.”
When Shakamak beat South on April 9 I tweeted, “Shakamak is back.” And Tuesday, Rick Semmler of WTHI-10 Sports posted on Twitter, “Shakamak baseball looks like the Lakers of old tonight. They are pounding Terre Haute North in the fourth inning 11-1.”
Shakamak coach Todd Gambill said of the Lakers’ blowout win at North, “I wasn’t surprised we won the ballgame. But yeah, I was surprised we won 17-1.”
And now the Linton Miners and Shakamak Lakers are scheduled to meet Saturday.
Miner coach Matt Fougerousse said of Saturday’s opponent, “Shakamak is playing well right now. Anytime you can put 17 runs on any team – I don’t care who it is – they have to be seeing the baseball really well right now.
“And for North to only score one run they’re getting good pitching too.”
It has been quite a turnaround for Shakamak this season. The Lakers are 10-4 ahead of Friday’s game at Loogootee.
Last season the Lakers endured a down year – by Shakamak standards. The Lakers finished a very un-Laker-like 11-14 – their first losing season in recent memory.
Shakamak wasn’t used to losing to teams like Linton and West Vigo – let alone losing to them by the 10-run rule.
Tuesday the Lakers applied the so-called “mercy rule” to Terre Haute North.
Last year was a rebuilding year for Shakamak as the Lakers fielded a starting lineup of four – and sometimes five – freshmen.
The late college basketball television commentator and former Marquette coach Al McGuire was famous for saying, “The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores.”
Well, those freshmen – second baseman Devin Stienstra, catcher Nick Kinnett, Trevor Miller and Draven Cox – hitters who also pitch and play the infield – along with outfielder Levi Helt – have stepped up this year. And they’ve been joined by two promising freshmen – Ethan Burdette and Peyton Yeryar – who have worked their way into the starting lineup.
“Last year they had to grow up a little bit and that’s hard,” the Laker skipper said. “They made some freshman mistakes. It was pretty frustrating.
“This year we’re a little more consistent if nothing else.”
I’ve had multiple coaches tell me repeatedly this year, “Well, we’re a young team. We’re mostly freshmen and sophomores. They’re gonna make mistakes and there’s gonna be growing pains.”
True. But hey, Shakamak’s as young as you guys are.
The Lakers do have a few solid upperclassmen – most notably seniors Lane Gilbert and Rylee Landry and junior Levi Webb, all of whom start. As Gambill said before the season started, “We’ve got a good group of older guys. We just don’t have many of them. We’re still going to have a lot of youngsters in the lineup.”
Gilbert, primarily a shortstop in seasons past and the team’s leader in batting average last year at .377, has emerged as the pitching staff’s ace this year.
Shakamak has tradition, with 23 sectional championships and two state titles to its name. And some 12 miles south Linton has been quietly building a tradition of its own. The Miners have won six sectionals in the past eight years.
But with graduation losses for the two-time defending 2A sectional champions, 2018 looked as if it might be a rebuilding year in Linton.
The Miners graduated career .400 hitters Kendall Williams and Logan Hollingsworth, both four-year starters. In addition, Hollingsworth was the ace of the pitching staff. Middle infielder Trey Passen was also a four-year starter.
“We lost three seniors that started since they’ve been freshmen,” Fougerousse said before the beginning of the season. “Realistically you could say we have five or six holes to fill based on what we lost.”
Instead the Miners are off to an 11-4 start exceeding coach Fougerousse’s expectations.
“I’d have to say I’m really surprised especially with what we lost last year,” the coach said. “Like I said at the beginning of the year we had a lot of baseball experience coming back but just not a lot of varsity experience.
“I’m really happy with the way some of the kids have stepped in and filled those roles.”
Fougerousse asked rhetorically, “Are we ahead of where I thought we’d be right now? Sure. But we still have a lot of room for improvement.”
Pitching figured to be a strength with starting hurlers Noah Woodward, Cory Anderson and Kip Fougerousse all returning. The trio has been joined by freshman Josh Pyne.
“I think we have four quality starters we can throw out there at any time,” the Miner dugout boss noted. “And then we’ve got three or four other relievers we can count on to come in and give us some innings.”
Indiana University recruits Fougerousse and Pyne are more heralded. Yet it’s been Woodward, the senior who has been Mr. Consistent.
“Noah has been like that his whole career,” his coach said. “He’s not that power pitcher. His job is to keep hitters off balance and get hitters to hit his pitch and let his defense help.”
Looking ahead to this season coach Fougerousse thought pitching and defense would be the team’s strengths, especially considering what the Miners lost in the lineup.
In fact both teams are fundamentally sound and solid in the field.
These two teams make the routine plays. Other teams often do not.
Despite the magnitude of Saturday’s game – at least where observers are concerned – both coaches say they’re approaching the Linton-Shakamak contest as just another game.
“We’re just halfway through our schedule,” coach Fougerousse pointed out. “After Saturday we’ll still have a dozen games to play. We’ve still got a long way to go and a lot of baseball to play to get ready for the state tournament.”
Gambill concurred. “We’re a little over halfway done. We’ve still got a long way to go.”
Still it’s one of those games fans, players and even the media look forward to, perhaps even circle on the calendar.
Saturday’s forecast calls for blue skies.
I hope to see a lot of Columbia blue and red and royal blue in the stands.
Batter up and play ball!