GREENFIELD — It was as perfect an opening to Hoosier Heritage Conference play Greenfield-Central could have hoped for. Starter Curtiss Irving set Delta down in order to start the game. And after Jayden Jackson walked and Mitch Gibson reached on an error, Clark Pence crushed a 1-1 pitch over the right-center fence for a three-run home run.
The Cougars would load the bases with one out, but couldn’t convert after a contentious runner’s interference call prevented two runs from scoring. Nonetheless, G-C still had the bases full with two outs.
Then — as the gods of irony would have it — right before second baseman Adam Rains stepped into the batter’s box, storm clouds rolled in.
A halt in play was called due to lightning, and shortly thereafter the skies opened up for over an hour.
Eventually, the imposing clouds parted and with a heavy assist from the Greenfield grounds crew, play began about 90 minutes after the initial delay.
When all was said and done, G-C topped Delta 7-3 in game one of the teams’ doubleheader.
But, the Cougars weren’t exactly ready to play when play resumed. After Delta pitcher Austin Conway homered to begin the top half of the second inning, the Eagles got two more in the fourth to level the score. The back-to-back two-baggers by Adam Brown (left-center gap) and Skylar Brand (right-center gap) both came on two-strike pitches from the right-handed Irving.
Offensively, G-C went scoreless from the second through fourth innings, much to the chagrin of the team’s coach, Travis Keesling.
“We were just real lackadaisical,” explained the fifth-year Greenfield-Central coach. “We were striking out looking … I know it’s tough with the delay, but we have to do better.”
After he gave up a one-out single in the fifth, Irving’s night was finished. The junior went four and two-thirds, surrendering three runs (all earned) while walking one and striking out four.
“He wasn’t as sharp (in the later innings) as he was early on, but you know what, he was a bulldog and he battled,” said Keesling of Irving.
Lefty Brendon Neal relieved Irving and induced an inning-ending double play from Eagles’ catcher Taran Temple, who batted .337 with four home runs and 18 RBI last season.
Neal carried that momentum into the bottom half of the fifth by smacking a leadoff dinger over the right-field wall to give G-C the lead for good at 4-3.
Pence showed off his power once more in the bottom of the sixth, thumping another ball out of Molinder Field for his second three-run round-tripper of the evening. Pence’s blast gave him three hits and six RBI in the game and the Cougars a 7-3 advantage.
Neal set Delta down in order in the top of the seventh to earn his second win in as many games to begin the season.
Neal’s offensive versatility was a hot topic after game one, but Keesling was also focused on his ballclub’s lack of offensive execution in the little-things department.
“The nice thing about Brendon is he’s kind of that threat of, ‘Is he going to bunt? Is he going to hit?’, and you can see he’s got a little bit of power,” Keesling said, “but we can’t count on the home run. We’ve got to be able to play small ball, that’s what we didn’t do a very good job of doing.”
Keesling also mentioned how his squad has struggled to sweep doubleheaders in the past.
“We’ve got to come out and have more energy. We’ve got have it because if we want to win this conference we’ve got to be able to win two game,” he offered. “We’ve struggled with keeping our intensity in games. For us to win this conference, that’s what we have to do.”
First pitch of the second game occurred at about 9:15 p.m. Friday night, or about the time the latter contest would normally end. Despite weariness from an already long night at the ballpark, the Cougar bats were far from asleep and led G-C to a 14-7 triumph.
Greenfield-Central jumped all over Delta starter Rob Fox early, tagging the Eagles’ starter for nine runs on four hits in an inning and two-thirds.
Fox got no help from his defense, however, as Delta was credited with four errors in the first inning alone.
The big blow in that span was Hayden Kissee’s three-run home run that cleared the big wall in left-field in the second frame.
Pence, who boasted a 2.72 ERA last season, didn’t quite have his have his best stuff, but battled and ate up some innings for G-C. He went three and two-thirds, surrendering six runs on eight hits and garnered the win.
Junior Cam Gruell and Neal contributed by crossing home plate three times apiece for the Greenfield offense.
Looking ahead to next week, the Cougars, now 3-0 on the season, face Roncalli on Tuesday. After their tussle with the Rebels, G-C visits 4A No. 4 and HHC power Pendleton Heights next Friday.
“We’re going to focus on one game at a time,” Keesling explained after the second game. “We’ll focus on Roncalli Tuesday and take it from there.”
Greenfield-Central 7, Delta 3
SCORE BY INNINGS R H E
DE (1-1, 0-1 HHC) 010 200 0 — 3 6 3
GC (2-0, 1-0 HHC) 300 013 x — 7 8 1
Two or more hits: Conway (DE), Pence, Neal (GC). 2B: Brown, Brand (DE). HR: Conway (DE), Pence (2), Neal (GC). SB: Kissee (GC)
WP: Neal (2-0). LP: Conway.
Greenfield-Central 14, Delta 7
DE (1-2, 0-2 HHC)
GC (3-0, 2-0 HHC)
HR: Kissee, Neal (GC)
WP: Pence (1-0)