With one swing of the bat, Nathan Unruh changed the game for the Hillsboro High School baseball team in the second contest against Canton-Galva on Thursday in Galva.
Unruh jumped on an off-speed pitch from the Eagle hurler and drove a screaming line drive toward the Canton-Galva right fielder to start the third inning. The fielder struggled with the flight of the line drive, rotating twice to get a bead on the hit. The ball sailed over the right fielder’s head and hit the fence. It gave Unruh the time he needed to round the bases. The Hillsboro third baseman punctuated the run with a head first slide at the plate.
“I’m fat,” Unruh said. “I didn’t think I could get all the way around.”
At the top of the third inning, the game was tied at 2 and the Eagle pitcher had rattled off a 1-2-3 inning in the second, only throwing five pitches. Hillsboro pitcher Cody Delk labored through the first inning, surrendering two runs on two hits.
“I was thinking how close was this game going to be,” head coach Doug Dick said.
Unruh’s home run rattled the Canton-Galva pitcher, and he walked Hillsboro cleanup hitter and fifth-hole hitters Kale Arnold and Derek Kelsey in consecutive at-bats. Both runners would score on shortstop Jakob Hanschu’s single to left field. Hillsboro would hit around in the inning. In Arnold’s second time to the plate, he hit a two-RBI single that drove in Delk and Luke Moore. Kelsey hit a double in the next at-bat, which scored Jordan Faul.
A 2-2 tie turned into a 10-2 Hillsboro advantage by the end of the inning. The Trojans’ 3-4-5 hitters accounted for three runs and four RBIs in the inning. Hillsboro eventually won the game, 15-2.
The production was something the Trojans had been missing in previous games. Dick decided to jostle the lineup after a long practice Wednesday. Arnold has been a fixture as the Trojans ‘cleanup hitter, but this was Unruh’s third series of games hitting in the three spot; he started the year hitting sixth.
The big change for Hillsboro was moving Kelsey from the two hole to fifth and moving Jordan Faul to the second spot. The lineup maneuvers worked wonders Thursday.
In the first game, an 11-0 Hillsboro win in five innings, Unruh scored three runs after walking three times, and Arnold went 1-for-3 with 3 RBIs, a single and two sacrifice flies. Kelsey was 3-for-3 with 2 RBIs.
Unruh racked up 3 RBIs and 2 runs in the second game. With runners consistently on base, Arnold recorded 4 RBIs and 2 runs.
Although Hillsboro did not run into a stout pitching performance in Galva, the offensive turnaround in two games was staggering.
“The last three games, two against Halstead and the first game against Pratt, we scored three runs total,” Arnold said. “The lineup has got to score more runs than that.”
Each of the middle of the order hitters brings different attributes to the lineup. Unruh is providing the power. In one series, Unruh belted two triples. Against Halstead, he smashed multiple doubles.
While Arnold has often found the outfield gap with hits, he is less inclined to force opposing outfielders to back up to the warning track. He prefers to rake hits up the middle and collect RBIs.
Before the series with Canton-Galva, Arnold and Faul planned a contest to see who could put up more RBIs against the Eagles. Arnold easily won with 7 in both games.
Power is not a part of Derek Kelsey’s repertoire. He seemed to be a perfect hitter for the second spot. He is a player who cares more about on-base percentage than his average.
“I’ll take it any way I can,” Kelsey said.
He is a willing bunter, two runs scored on a Kelsey bunt single in the first game. Kelsey is an accomplished hitter, equally adept at pulling or taking the ball the other way.
“He is everywhere,” Arnold said. “He can hit to all fields.”
Although Kelsey does not fit the stereotype of the five-hole hitter, he thrived seeing quality pitches to hit following Unruh and Arnold on Thursday. Arnold looked at the lineup change from a pitcher’s perspective. He said opposing hurlers will regard Kelsey differently from that spot in the lineup.
“I think you’re more comfortable there,” Arnold said.
The hits spread around the lineup in both games, notably in the second game with Hanschu recording multiple hits.
With the offense clicking, both Hillsboro pitchers — David Nelson and Delk — settled in and threw compete games.
The defense played looser. The top play for Hillsboro Thursday was a rolling catch by Moore in center field to end the third inning.
Something Moore and Dick had both looked to improve for Hillsboro happened naturally. With a lead, the Trojans started having more fun in the dugout and communicated better on the field. Players joked about getting hit by pitches to get rewards of candy. Nelson and Aaron Wintermote led the dugout for constant chatter during Hillsboro at bats.
“We needed some fun. The game has to be fun,” Dick said. “You can only learn life lessons so long losing.”