Coach Keith Hatfield can’t help but be pleased when he surveys his team’s pitching stats through nine games.
There’s the team earned-run average of 1.44. The nearly twice as many strikeouts as walks (61 to 32). The fact five of Hatfield’s top eight pitchers have chalked up at least one victory, and two others a save.
This aspect of Center Grove baseball is, quite frankly, surpassing what had been expected.
“This has been a pleasant surprise. We graduated our top two pitchers from last year, and they shouldered a lot of responsibility for us,” Hatfield said, referring to Jay Prior and Zeke Howie.
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With innings there for the taking, hard-throwing junior left-hander Jake Cantleberry along with seniors Josh Hart and Jade Doyle — the latter another lefty — put in the offseason work required to form what has been an outstanding nucleus.
Hatfield’s first Trojans squad posted an 18-10 record and stood third in the final Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference standings at 14-4.
However, this time around the second-year mentor was able to preside over conditioning and specific pitch drills performed during the cold-weather months.
“It was nice having coach Hatfield here for the offseason to work with us,” Doyle said. “We had something going on every day, a real nice workout plan we built on every week.”
Cantleberry agreed, adding, “It’s a whole new guidance. Coach Hatfield is tough, but we have a lot of fun with the coaches, too.”
With a fastball clocked anywhere between 85 to 88 mph, Cantleberry has been virtually unhittable this season with 2-0 record, spotless ERA and 26 strikeouts in 17 innings worked.
Doyle is the stereotypical crafty lefthander working the strike zone, according to his coach. Hart has been known to lean on the movement in a fastball moving at somewhere around 83 to 84 mph to befuddle batters.
These are Hatfield’s starters when Center Grove is facing MIC opponents, such as when the Trojans host Warren Central today and play at the Warriors’ diamond Wednesday.
Upcoming nonconference foes such as Southport (Thursday), Jennings County (May 8) and Brownsburg (May 11) will feature either junior Conner Cantrell or sophomore Jack Kellams in a starting role.
Hatfield’s bullpen is comprised of seniors Carson Lee and Lucas Hays along with junior Joey Drury.
Total the parts and it gives Hatfield a rotation building confidence with every out recorded.
Cantleberry, for instance, was one of Center Grove’s nonconference starters at this time last season.
“Cantleberry started quite a few games for us last year, but we also knew he had improved a lot. All five of them (starters) did really, really well in the offseason,” Hatfield said.
“We as a coaching staff were able to instill our program and our mentality, and these kids bought in. We do running and core exercises during the season, too, and I think that helps our pitchers keep their strength and recover faster.”
Center Grove sported a 7-2 record entering Monday’s game against county rival Whiteland, an accomplishment either anticipated or something of a stunner depending on who one is talking to.
Prior to Monday’s game, only seven of the 37 hits surrendered were of the extra-base variety.
“Honestly, I’m not surprised because a lot of our guys had improved last summer. I’m a totally different pitcher ,” Cantleberry said. “It’s confidence mainly, but you have to remember we have a pretty good defense behind us, too.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Name grade IP W-L ERA SO BB
Jake Cantleberry, junior 17 2-0 0.00 26 5
Jade Doyle, senior 7 1/3 1-0 1.91 6 2
Josh Hart, senior 6 1/3 1-0 1.11 5 4
Connor Cantrell, junior 13 2-1 3.77 11 6
Jack Kellams, sophomore 9 1-0 0.78 8 5
Carson Lee, senior 3 1/3 0-1 2.10 2 4
Lucas Hays, senior 1 2/3 0-0 0.00 2 5
Joey Drury, junior 2/3 0-0 0.00 1 1