Pitching, timely offense carry Dans past Pistol Shrimp
By Chad Dare, Commercial-News
Power pitching and timely hitting are two key ingredients for successful baseball teams.
The 2022 Danville Dans had both areas covered in their season-opening 8-4 victory over the Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp before 578 at Danville Stadium.
Right-handers Jackson Conn and Khal Stephen combined to strike out 17 batters, while the Dans (1-0) got a pair of two-run hits from Will Carpenter and Bryce Chance in the late innings.
“That was a good win in front of our crowd,” said Danville Dans manager Eric Coleman, in his ninth season with the team. “We always want to protect the house. I thought our guys came ready to play. I think it’s going to be a fun summer. I like this group. They want to get better and they want to be here.”
It also doesn’t hurt that Stephen, a sophomore-to-be from Purdue who got the victory for the Dans as he struck out 10 batters in five innings of relief, is a former standout from Seeger Memorial High School in West Lebanon, Ind.
“It was a lot of fun. The energy was definitely up and the our crowd was really into the game,” said Stephen, who was supported by his entire family.
Stephen, who was 3-4 with an 8.29 ERA in his freshman season with the Boilermakers, knew his role on Wednesday was long relief but he had no idea that he would throw 77 pitches in five innings.
“I definitely didn’t see that coming into this game,” said Stephen, who threw 33.2 innings in 23 appearances at Purdue. “I was hitting my spots and things were going right. It was just a good situation.”
Coleman noted that extending Stephen is part of the plan for him this summer.
“There is a reason why they are projecting him to be a weekend starter at Purdue,” Coleman said. “His numbers tonight show it. I saw him pitch a couple times this spring on television and I was really impressed. It was a no-brainer to get him here in Danville. I think he is going to have a big summer for us.”
The only blemish on Stephen’s opening performance was hitting three batters, one of them scored in the ninth on a double by Isaiah Hart.
“That comes with the game. I missed on some pitches,” he said. “All three of them were called for inside fastballs. It was just a matter of missing by a couple of inches. I will learn from this and get better.”
The 6-foot-4 right-hander added, “getting in on their hands is a good way to attack hitters.”
Before Stephen entered in the fifth inning, the Dans got four innings from Conn, a 6-7 righty from Northeast Community College. He allowed three runs, but only one was earned, as he walked five and struck out seven.
“We have to do a better job of pitching to contact,” said Coleman was was pleased with the 17 strikeouts by his staff. “Some of that could have been first-game jitters, but it’s always good to get the win.”
And when the Dans scored three times in the bottom of the eighth to give them eight runs, it turned into the first Culver’s ButterBurger Bash of the season.
“That’s always good for the fans,” Coleman said. “I know they raised it a run this season, so that means we have score eight now instead of seven.
"We always want to please our fans. They are a part of why we have been so successful here over the years.”
Honestly, it didn’t look like Danville was going to get anywhere near the eight runs needed this year for a ButterBurger Bash as the Dans managed just single runs in the first and fourth innings off of Illinois Valley starter Tyler Conklin.
But, things quickly changed in the sixth inning.
Will Carpenter, an infielder from Wichita State, broke a 3-3 tie with his two-run single to right that scored Chase Vinson, who went 1-for-3 with two runs scored, and Gray Bane, who had just tied the game with an run-scoring single to left.
“It was only a matter of time until the offense got clicking,” said Carpenter. “One hit changes everything because hitting is contagious.”
That was certainly true for Carpenter, who had struck out in his first two plate appearances against Conklin.
“Those were rough. I was just trying to get my timing down and obviously, I was very late,” he said. “There is nothing you can do about it when it’s over other than make adjustments in your third at-bat.”
So, what did Carpenter do differently against Conklin, who gave up five runs in 5.1 innings?
“In my second at-bat, were taking until we got a strike,” he said. “The next time I came up, I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I was hunting a first-pitch fastball, trying to get a good pitch to hit and drive it.”
Carpenter added a third RBIs with a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning before Chance lined a two-out, two-run double into the right-center field gap.
Danville scored its first run of the game on a solo homer to right by shortstop Seaver Sheets.