In the spirit of an election year, Kale Arnold announced his candidacy as the ace of the Hillsboro High School baseball pitching staff Friday at Nickerson.
Behind Arnold’s 7 innings of work, the Trojans won their first game, 7-5, in the second game of a doubleheader with the Panthers.
Arnold recorded five strikeouts in his final two innings of work. The Ks showcased Arnold’s pitch selection and stuff. On a looking strikeout, Arnold threw three consecutive strikes, starting with a curve, forcing the hitter to foul off a fastball, and then freezing the Panther hitter with a change-up.
“Once I got the first-pitch strike, I could go to the curve ball,” Arnold said.
The curve was Arnold’s signature pitch on Friday. It did not feature the most elongated loop or the sharpest break, but it did have a deceptively sudden break about a foot from the strike zone, which repeatedly fooled Nickerson hitters.
Stuff is one requirement of an ace, what about mettle? The seventh inning displayed Arnold’s resolve. After surrendering two runs on a single, the scoring runners having reached base as hit batsman and walks, the Hillsboro junior seemed to be tiring. He quickly forced a fly ball to right but the Hillsboro right fielder allowed the ball to bounce off his glove for an error.
Arnold responded by putting the next two batters into 0-2 counts and finishing them with swinging strikeouts on curves. He fell behind the next batter 3-1, but he rallied with a fastball and curve ball one-two punch to end the game with a K.
“It’s fun,” Arnold said. “It’s what you grow up wanting to do.”
This season is unique for Arnold because there is not an incumbent ace already on the staff. Two years ago, it was Jacob Edwards, last year, Dylan Delk.
“I want to be in that position,” Arnold said. “I want the seniors to be with me.”
What may help Arnold is that he also put together a great night at the plate. He gave the Trojans a 7-3 lead in the top of the sixth inning with a 3-RBI double, a screaming fly ball blasted into deep left-center field.
He also walked and scored a run in the fifth inning. He had a single and run in the first game against Nickerson, a 13-3 Panther win.
Arnold said he is more comfortable at the plate and on the mound after playing on a highly competitive team in Wichita last summer.
“It just gets the nerves out of you,” he said.
Head coach Doug Dick said Arnold’s night was the best of any starting pitcher thus far, but that the starters have not necessarily been the problem.
Hillsboro lost its first game March 27 to Little River, a game started by Lucas Sinclair, 7-5, but the contest was scoreless through five innings. The second game against Little River was a 14-1 rout.
Luke Moore struggled with command in the first game against Nickerson and left the game after two innings, but the lead ballooned when reliever Dylan Jirak entered.
Dick also wants the team to play more aggressively on defense, diving for more balls that are close. Derek Kelsey was a good example when he made a diving stop up the first base line to end the sixth inning.
Regardless of these factors if Dick chooses to go to Arnold for a big game, the junior has vowed to be ready.