Indians relying on timely hitting

Published 11:16 pm Wednesday, June 7, 2017

PORT NECHES — There was a time when Jacob Vaughan was Port Neches-Groves’ leadoff hitter and Hayden Guerra was the No. 9 hitter.
Both did “OK” in their spots, coach Scott Carter said, but they ran into a few struggles. So, he switched the two.
“Whenever we flipped the lineup over from Vaughan to me and [Logan] LeJeune, it seemed like we never skipped a beat,” Guerra said. “It’s always like we had our 1-2-3 up. Everybody in the lineup is hitting the ball solid. Everybody’s hitting the ball great for us.”
PNG (32-8-2) hits .294 as a team, but the Indians have developed a knack for timely hitting in crucial games during the 5A baseball playoffs.
Their last two defeats came in series openers against Barbers Hill and Tomball, where they combined for one run and were held to one hit against Tomball. PNG then totaled 13 hits in Games 2 and 3 against BH and struck back with 11 in a doubleheader against Tomball to advance.
Against Brenham last week, Vaughan hammered a single and scored a run in each game in the bottom of the lineup. Guerra, meanwhile, made the most of being at the top of the order and shelled out four hits combined.
Guerra showed why he batted .404 in District 22-5A play.
“We’ve had timely hits all throughout the playoffs, and it’s been really big for us,” Carter said. “We haven’t always started with timely hitting. We got it in the last two ballgames of each [of the previous two] series, and we got it early in the series against Brenham. That’s important.”
Coming out of the gate hot was not an issue last week for PNG, which scored nine runs on 18 hits, including 10 hits in Game 1.
“You’ve got to have timely hitting, you’ve got to have breaks and hopefully we do that this weekend.”
To do that, the Indians will have to solve a Frisco Wakeland team that has posted a 1.41 team ERA and 10 shutouts, with four of them in the playoffs. Senior Cooper Chandler (6-1) has the most wins for the Wolverines, but senior Wyatt Marr (3-1) has given up 0.77 earned run a game.
Carter said he didn’t know much about Wakeland other than they have a good pitching staff. He just knows his No. 9 hitter is as good as his No. 1.
Add LeJeune, a .358 hitter, in the 2-hole and Austin Bost (.358) just behind him, and the Indians can capitalize off timely hitting at the bottom of the order.
“Guerra likes being in the 1, Vaughan likes being in the 9, and Vaughan rolls the lineup over for us,” Carter said. “If he gets on with our 1-2-3 coming up, that’s a plus.”
Good-luck charms in dugouts have become commonplace during postseason play, be it on the high school or college level.
PNG found its dugout buddy at a pizzeria in Lufkin during a tournament earlier in the season.
“They had a crane machine,” LeJeune said. “We actually have these practice gloves called Baby Gators. We saw a gator and [teammate] Zach Deckert came up with the name Gaby Bator and it’s stuck with us ever since. We were on a 17-game winning streak with it out, so we don’t want to change it up now.”
Gaby Bator is blue with a yellow belly, not exactly matching the Indians’ uniforms, but he’s sure to be spotted somewhere at Dell Diamond on Thursday in or around their dugout. His teammates are relying on him for good luck.
“We put him on all types of places, on the dugout, on the poles, in the fence,” LeJeune said.

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About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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