Patriots brace for constant cycle of ups, downs

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Heritage Hills shortstop Derek Kippenbrock tried to tag out Loogootee’s Branden Wilz as he slid into second base Wednesday in Lincoln City. The Class 1A No. 9 Lions scored the game’s first four runs and added a grand slam in the seventh to deal the Patriots an 8-3 defeat. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

LINCOLN CITY — Five games into the season, the feel surrounding the Heritage Hills baseball team is that the Patriots are part of a thrill ride that never docks to a complete stop.

The Pats never quite know what’s coming next. And that can be both exhilarating and terrifying. There are stark dips, like Wednesday’s first few innings in Lincoln City when Heritage Hills’ inexperience showed. One moment later, the Patriots can rocket the other direction to a steep peak. They accomplished that against the Class 1A No. 9 Lions for a fleeting spell before the ride lunged the other way and left the Patriots with an 8-3 setback.


That came on the heels of a Tuesday tussle with Tell City that changed from worry-free to wild in a heartbeat — the Patriots led 6-0 into the sixth inning before clinging to a 7-4 win as the Marksmen brought the tying run to the plate in their final at-bat. One theme is becoming apparent. No one will accuse the Pats, who had five freshmen and sophomores populating the starting lineup Wednesday, of failing to make things interesting.

“We’re going to have to suffer through it and learn through experience through ballgames,” Patriot coach Dave Sensenbrenner said. “Hopefully we’ll get better, and I think we are. We’re doing some good things. We’re not perfect, and I don’t want to be perfect right now, I want to be real good on Game 29. We’ll get better.”

The Patriots sense that quest is already in motion, at least for spells.

Heritage Hills permitted just one Lion baserunner over the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, with starter Cory Ebelhar first firing a 1-2-3 fourth before reliever Nick Waninger breezed through the next two.

Prior to that, though, Loogootee (4-1) sculpted a 4-0 lead as the Patriots (3-2) allowed 12 total bases through a medley of walks, errors and wild pitches in the first three frames. Heritage Hills tightened things, inching within 4-3. But in the final inning, Branden Wilz unloaded on a grand slam to sully the Pats’ late-inning push.

Sensenbrenner said “we’ve got to find arms that are going to help us,” adding that Ebelhar and Waninger, both sophomores new to varsity, simply need experience managing the inevitable bumps throughout an outing. Even when Waninger allowed the grand slam, Sensenbrenner credited his pitcher for following orders and trying to pound the strike zone early.

“We were trying to get ahead of him with bases loaded and challenge him, and (Wilz) made a play and hit the ball where he needed to,” Sensenbrenner said. “I’m happy with the result — I’m not happy with the result as far as losing — but I thought we played the situations and did a good job with it.”

The Patriots had less control over well-struck balls that found Loogootee gloves. Three times, they placed their leadoff hitter aboard before rolling into double plays. Heritage Hills bunched all of its runs and its only two hits into the fourth inning; Tyler Ward and Dugan Kippenbrock both scored after Cody Seifrig’s tailing looper skimmed off the right fielder’s glove, and Derek Kippenbrock delivered an RBI single.

Seifrig also solidified his stock on defense, where he rescued the Pats from three potential errors by plucking throws to first base out of the dirt. A broken elbow wiped out his freshman season, but so far, everything in his return has been smooth going.

“It’s been pretty good. I’ve pretty much fell right back into it, luckily,” Seifrig said. “Hopefully it keeps going good for us.”

The Patriots expect to continue mining the potential from Seifrig and another teammate with athletic bloodlines. Seifrig’s cousin Cole, a former Patriot two-sport star who also played football, played three minor-league seasons after being drafted by the Marlins organization. And the Pats’ leading hitter entering the game was freshman leadoff hitter Kenton Crews, whose father, Michael, was a defensive back at Ball State University.

“Cody did a nice job and we expect that out of him,” Sensenbrenner said. “He’s played a lot of baseball, and it’s just a matter of getting experience at this level instead of the other level.
“One thing (Crews) can do, he can run. He’s going to be a nice player for us in the future.”
Derek Kippenbrock added that from the season opener Friday until now, he can already tell the Pats are making sharper contact and seeing the ball better.

That will help as the Patriots won’t be exiting their thrill ride anytime soon — Monday kick-started a stretch of 15 games in an 18-day span. The most effective learning will come on the job, said Sensenbrenner, who didn’t have anyone batting in the same slot in the order as in Friday’s opener.
“He’ll be mixing us up here, trying to figure out where he’s comfortable with us at in the lineup,” Derek Kippenbrock said. “We’ll get it figured out by the end of the year.”

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