As a senior leader for the Hillsboro High School baseball team, Luke Moore addressed the state of the club Friday. He summed it up in one word — frustrated.
“We haven’t hit our groove. We’ve got to get comfortable at the plate,” Moore said. “We’re trying to keep it positive, but I won’t lie — it’s frustrating. The biggest thing we’ve got to work on is bringing back more excitement.”
The Trojans are 3-7 on the season after two losses to Halstead on Friday, 6-5 and 2-1. Both games could be described as frustrating.
The Trojans found themselves in an early 4-0 hole after the first inning of the first game. Two of those runs were unearned, the runners reaching on errors by the left side of the Hillsboro infield.
Hillsboro battled back. Cleanup hitter Kale Arnold singled in Moore and Derek Kelsey in the third inning. Jordan Faul hit a single to score Nathan Unruh. Kelsey scored on sacrifice fly by Arnold. After walking, Cody Delk scored, and the game was tied at 5 heading into the fifth inning.
Pitcher Lucas Sinclair also managed to settle down, not allowing a hit in his last four innings of work. Moore was his catcher; he said Sinclair was locating his fastball much better in the later innings, which was setting up his sharp curve ball and change-up. Moore also simplified the pitch selection.
“He was just feeling it,” Moore said.
Even though Cody Delk pitched consistently through the bottom of the eighth inning, the game ended as it had begun. A Halstead runner reached base on an error. He then moved over to third base on a passed ball. He scored on a line drive single to the outfield to end the game.
“We spotted them four runs in that first game,” head coach Doug Dick said.
The second game was more cleanly played with both Halstead runs coming home on hits, but the Trojan offense was stymied. Arnold submitted another strong performance on the mound. He fought his way through 9 Halstead hits to keep the game within two runs.
The Hillsboro offense did show some life in the sixth inning. Kelsey reached on a hit-by-pitch. He was swiftly moved over by Unruh, who smashed a line drive over the Halstead right fielder’s head. Kelsey scored easily. Unruh was thinking triple all the way on as he rounded second base but third base coach Dick motioned to Unruh to stop at second. Caught up between second and third, Unruh was tagged out scrambling to the second-base bag.
“A base running mistake here or there takes you out of the game,” Dick said. “We’ve lost four games by one run or two. We could easily be 7-3.”
Hitting was Moore’s main concern for the team, and he did not hesitate to point the finger back at himself. The one bright spot in the Trojan lineup this season has been Unruh. The third baseman hit three doubles between both games Friday. Unruh was hitting in the three-hole Friday, Moore said it is on him and second hitter Kelsey to get hits in front of Unruh to give the slugger RBI opportunities.
With the exceptions of Unruh, Arnold, and Faul, the Trojans seem to be in a lineup-wide slump. Sinclair, who has hit anywhere from third through fifth, requested being moved down in the lineup before Friday’s games. Dick is hoping selfless moves like this inspire the rest of the team.
“They’re frustrated with themselves more than anything,” Dick said.
There have been defensive frustrations as well. Moore and Sinclair are both playing out of their comfort zone when behind the plate at catcher. Sinclair is naturally a shortstop. When he replaced Delk at short in the fifth inning, he immediately displayed his slick fielding ability by throwing out all three batters in the inning.
Moore is naturally a center fielder, where he played the second game Friday. Both players pitch with the other catching. Moore said they have tried to help one another behind the plate as much as possible. A mutual respect has formed. Each player knows what it is like to struggle on the mound and to scramble on the outskirts of the batter’s box blocking balls in the dirt on the other end.
“We make some jokes: ‘If you throw one in the dirt, I’ll throw one in the dirt next time,’” Moore said. “Sometimes I get frustrated, I yell, but never at Lucas.”
The Trojans can look forward hopefully by looking back to the recent past. The Trojans have started the past two seasons with sub-.500 records and have made it to the state tournament both times.
Moore knows that the team performs better when the dugout is rowdy. Increasing the energy on the bench will be a focus. But it is not in his and Kelsey’s personalities to be as “loudmouthed” as Ben Gardner, Dylan Delk, and Aaron Bina, seniors from last year’s team, but other players like outfielder Aaron Wintermote may pick up the slack.
Like they have both years, the Trojans will lower expectations. Dick wants his team above .500 by regionals, but he would accept playing better baseball before the tournament featuring top teams Marion and Sacred Heart.
“There’s a lot of things we’ve got to put together,” Dick said. “I would like to see us over .500 for regionals, but we can’t do it until we clean up a few things.”