BASEBALL: Biggest week yet: Indians, Bulldogs to clash with first place on line

Published 8:03 pm Saturday, March 24, 2018

Port Neches-Groves’ seven losses through the non-district slate is just one away from the Indians’ total last season, when they won the UIL 5A state championship.

That did not make them hit the panic button.

“We play a tough non-district schedule every year,” fifth-year Indians coach Scott Carter said, their early opponents being a mix of 4A-6A programs and including 2017 playoff opponents Barbers Hill and Manvel and defending 6A champion Deer Park.

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“Our district schedule is always tough. The kids had a target on their back winning the state championship in non-district, and these teams are coming after them. We’re a new baseball team, and we’re still putting things together. We’re getting ready to make a run at district and compete against a really good team.”

The Indians (10-7-3, 4-0 in 22-5A), who have not lost a District 22-5A game in their past 31 tries, don’t expect to have it so easy this weekend when they begin a two-game set to try and gain sole possession of first place.

It usually never is easy when they take on the Nederland Bulldogs (12-5-1, 4-0), who started the season 5-0-1 and have won seven of their last eight, with their only setback an 8-1 loss to 4A power Bridge City.

Their bats have been pretty warm in a deep lineup that includes Alan Underwood, Landon Hiltz, Angel Castillo and Conner Kemp. The Bulldogs’ updated hitting and pitching stats were unavailable, but the team outscored Beaumont Central 45-1 this past week.

PNG isn’t too shabby with the bats, either.

They outscored Ozen 42-1 from March 13-14 before taking two from Vidor this past week.

Senior Brandon Petix is batting 7 for 14 on the season with two doubles. On the mound, the 6-foot-5 lefthander is 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA.

“His record should be better than 3-0,” Carter said. “The reason it’s not, we haven’t given him the run support we needed to.”

And then, there’s another lefty, reigning 5A Player of the Year Josh Hranicky (3-2, 1.03 ERA, 53 strikeouts), and sophomore Khristian Curtis (2-1, 0.58 ERA) adding to the Indians’ staff.

Senior Austin Bost is hitting .385 with 20 hits (nine doubles) and six RBI. Classmate Holden Lane (.275) has been PNG’s power-hitter with three home runs, while sophomore Carson Roccaforte (.276) has two long balls to his name.

Roccaforte was the hero in the Indians’ 5A Region III semifinal clincher over Tomball when he hit a two-strike, two-run double in the top of the seventh inning with two outs.

“We’ve had timely hitting,” Carter said. “Pitching has been good. We need to continue to be able to do that. We’re probably facing our toughest opponent on Tuesday and Thursday of next week.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

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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