Dans win 8th straight at Danville Stadium
BY CHAD DARE, COMMERCIAL-NEWS
PHOTOS BY SUSAN JOY MCKINNEY, COMMERCIAL-NEWS
Success didn’t happen right away for Danville Dans center fielder Walker McCleney.
The senior-to-be from the University of Alabama had to endure a 2-for-28 slump in his first 15 games with the Dans, but McCleney’s smile and good-natured attitude never wavered.
McCleney extended his hitting streak to three games with a 2-for-2 performance with two walks and two runs scored during Danville’s 7-2 victory over the Hannibal Hoots before a season-best crowd of 3,827 at Danville Stadium.
“It took me a little while to get into the groove,’’ said McCleney, who has six hits in his last eight at-bats. “I have worked with (coach Jack) Murphy a little bit in the cages and he has helped me a lot.
“Baseball is a game where you fail a lot. You have to keep your head on your shoulder and keep your head up. Every day is a new day.’’
RJ Kuruts, who was the winning pitcher for the Dans on Tuesday night, admitted that the Danville Dans players are really proud of the way that he worked through his early-season slump.
“Seeing what he is doing now is amazing,’’ Kuruts said. “We knew that start wasn’t Walker. Now, we are seeing the Walker that we expected to see all year.’’
Danville Dans manager Eric Coleman echoed the sentiments of his right-handed pitcher.
“We continued to run him out and now, he is swinging a hot bat,’’ Coleman said. “He found his swing and got his confidence back.
“Walker can obviously play really good defense for us and he can run a little bit. It’s good to see him doing well.’’
While McCleney’s confidence might have been tested a little in the first three weeks of the Prospect League season, his swagger never left, especially on Tuesday night as he wore a very large, fake gold chain around his neck.
And after his triple in the eight inning, McCleney showed it off to his teammates in the third-base dugout.
“It’s the chain. You have to be swaggy and confident at the plate,’’ he said.
And where exactly did he get this chain.
“Marcel (Bachelier) came up to me today and said that they got this chain at Spencer’s, and did I want to wear it,’’ McCleney said. “I definitely was going to wear it.
“My neck is turning green. It’s definitely not real, but it is heavy.’’
But, neither the chain nor an early-season hitting slump was going to force McCleney into lowering his head.
“It was tough and it gets into your head a little bit, but you can’t let it get you down,’’ he said. “If it does — you will keep doing poorly. You have to take very day like its a new day.
“Now, you just want to keep putting together good at-bats. That is the main thing for me, I want to have fun and find barrels.’’
Having fun and find barrels are two things that this group of Danville Dans continue to do this season, especially at the friendly confines of Danville Stadium.
Max Jung-Goldberg got the offense going in the first inning. The left-handed leadoff hitter for the Dans drilled a solo home run over the center field fence as part of a four-run first inning for Danville.
“That set the tone,’’ Coleman said. “I think (Jung-Goldberg) is one of the better players in this lead and he did a good job of getting us on the board. When we score first, we are tough to beat.
“He got us lead and we didn’t look back from there.’’
The Dans (15-5) added three more runs — two coming on a single by Ryan Archibald and another on a run-scoring single by Cade Brown.
A four-run lead was more than enough for Kuruts, who struck out five in five-plus innings as he improved to 3-0.
“After that, I knew that I could just attack the zone,’’ Kuruts said. “With our team, you know that they got 4 in the first inning and they are not going to stop there. That really helps a pitching staff’s confidence. We know that we have an offense that can produce runs on any given night.’’
Coleman pointed out that Kuruts also deserves a great deal of credit for holding Hannibal to just one run — a solo home run by Jared Wegner in the sixth inning.
“RJ is just a bulldog,’’ Coleman said. “He competes in the zone and he throws strikes. (Tanner) Green and (Joe) Panella followed him and did the same thing. It was a good team win.’’
Green threw three shutout innings, while Panella allowed one run in the ninth.
The Dans, who own the best record in the Prospect League, are now 9-2 in games at Danville Stadium.
“Our philosophy is that we have to protect our house and we stand behind that,’’ said Kuruts. “And tonight it was a great showing by the fans. We hope to give them more good wins like tonight.’’
McCleney acknowledged the big crowd and the Blackhawks Band with the help of the First Gig Rock-n-Roll Campers played a positive role for the Dans.
“That was cool. It got everyone pumped up,’’ he said. “The loud music from the bad was great and it was fun seeing everyone come out to the ballpark.
“Honestly, it makes you want to play harder. We wanted to put on a good show for them.’’