Especially in the spring, it’s hard to tell exactly what to expect in a team’s season opener.
With only a handful of outside practices, the speed of the game ramps up when everything counts, often leading to inconsistent play.
That’s what plagued the Manhattan High baseball team, which opened its season with a doubleheader split Tuesday afternoon in Derby, dropping the first game 3-0 to Derby and winning the second game 6-1 against Wichita East.
Head coach Don Hess said the team didn’t quite seem ready to play against the Panthers.
“It seemed like we didn’t make some of the adjustments that we needed to,” he said. “We had a lot of fly balls and a lot of strikeouts. It’s hard to win when you don’t put much pressure on the other team. I don’t think we showed up ready to go.
“They just played a little bit better than we did that first game.”
The Indians’ were held scoreless on just four hits, wasting a good performance by starter Henry de Noble, who went five innings while allowing six hits and just one run to go with four strikeouts. De Noble’s one run came after a leadoff double to start the bottom of the third, with a pair of groundouts advancing the runner home.
“Henry threw well enough to win,” Hess said. “He threw a great ballgame, and the other guy did too. We just didn’t get the key hit when we needed it. All in all, we just didn’t react very well that first game to game-type speed.”
Ethan Fabrizius came into the game in the sixth, and allowed a pair of runs. He led the inning with a strikeout, but walked the next batter. A wild pitch advanced him, and Derby made him pay with an RBI single. After a popout, the Panthers got another run-scoring single to make it 3-0.
The Indians started to rally in the top of the seventh, getting a leadoff double by Klug and a walk by pinch-hitter AJ Epperson. But Derby starter Garrett Rankin, who pitched all seven innings, got an infield fly, followed by a fielder’s choice before Garrett Francis flied out to left to end the game.
In the second game against Wichita East, the Indians improved upon much of what cost them in the loss to Derby.
Manhattan once again got a strong starting pitching performance, this time from junior Jesse Steinbring, who pitched six innings, allowing just one hit and one run while striking out nine and walking three. Mike Leeper came in to pitch the seventh, retiring the side in order.
“Between games, Jesse had the look in his eyes like he was not going to let us down,” Hess said. “He was really, really good. He was in command, he threw strikes, there was just no way he was going to lose that ballgame tonight, and he pitched like it.”
The Indians’ offense came alive as well, pounding out 14 hits, while the defense rebounded, committing no errors. While the hit total was good, Hess would have liked to see his team put more runs across the plate.
“I think we had 14 hits and only scored six runs, which isn’t the greatest percentage in the world,” he said. “We had a couple blown signs out on the bases, and there were still some things we didn’t do very well. I think we had the bases loaded with no outs one inning and didn’t score.
“We did some better things and I think we competed a lot better the second game. We were ready and zoned in.”
Chris Klug and Grant Herpich each had doubles for the Indians, with Herpich driving in three and Klug two. The Indians scored in five different innings, but never got a big inning put together.
With a pair of games in the books, Hess said he thinks hitting will be his team’s biggest inconsistency.
“Hitting is one of those deals that we’re just going to continue to work on all year,” he said. “Pitching, everybody we put on the mound today was effective. We just have to do a better job at the plate of helping whoever is out on the mound.”
Manhattan (1-1) travels to Topeka High on Friday for a doubleheader.