Ben McDaniel has a problem that most high school baseball coaches across the state would like to have.
He might just have too many pitchers.
McDaniel’s Columbus North team is blessed with an abundance of pitching talent. While the Bull Dogs don’t have that one dominant ace, they have eight pitchers capable of getting opposing hitters out at any time.
“One thing we’re not short on is pitching depth,” McDaniel said. “We feel like we have a staff that’s seven deep, and we have a closer in Cooper Trinkle who we can bring in whenever we want.”
In the days before North (15-12) was to face Martinsville (12-15) in the semifinals of the Evansville Regional, McDaniel still hadn’t settled on a starter. He had narrowed the options to senior left-hander Kevin Thompson, sophomore right-hander Parker Maddox and freshman righty Casper Clark.
Those three were the Bull Dogs’ starters in their three sectional games. Thompson threw a four-hitter and struck out 14 in a 4-3 first-round win against East Central. Maddox threw the first four innings in a 7-6 semifinal win against Columbus East. Clark pitched the final inning to earn the save in that game, then threw a five-hitter in Monday’s 11-1 five-inning win against Bloomington South.
“We legitimately have three guys that we’re throwing it around with right now, trying to figure out who’s going to start,” McDaniel said. “We have to come up with two starters, and we have three guys, and we don’t know which game they’re going to go.”
The second starter would go in Saturday night’s regional final, should the Bull Dogs make it. They would meet the winner of the first semifinal between Bedford North Lawrence and Evansville Central.
Clark has the best numbers of the trio at 5-1 with an 0.88 ERA in 32 innings. Thompson is 2-2 with a 2.08 ERA in 30 1/3 innings, and Maddox is 2-3 with a 3.80 ERA in 35 innings.
“I really need to focus on keeping walks down,” Clark said. “That’s my goal. Not everybody has their best day every time they go to the mound, so it’s always good to have somebody behind you.”
McDaniel has plenty of options beyond his main three. Sophomore Jakob Meyer (3-2, 7.00 ERA, 27 IP) pitched two innings and picked up the win against East in the sectional. Junior Jake Petrusky (2-2, 3.08 ERA, 25 IP) was North’s most experienced varsity pitcher coming into the season.
Then, the Bull Dogs have another left-hander in senior Logan Jones (0-0, 0-82 ERA, 17 IP) and a righty in senior Korry Drum (1-1, 3.00 ERA, 9 1/3 IP) who have seen action this year.
“Logan is real crafty,” McDaniel said. “Usually, guys don’t hit the ball very hard against Logan. Korry has been great for us in spots and we probably could do more with him, but Korry is our lockdown guy in center field. It’s hard to take Korry out of center field, but he can go for us if he’s ready.”
Thompson usually starts at first base when he isn’t pitching. Maddox normally is the designated hitter, and Clark plays either first or DH. Petrusky is used as a courtesy runner when catcher Nolan Wetherald gets on base.
Maddox’s father Jason is one of three pitching coaches for the Bull Dogs. He is joined by former North pitchers Hunter McIntosh, who played at Alabama State the previous four years, and Daniel Ayers, who had been in the Baltimore Orioles organization for nearly four years before being released in April and retiring from professional baseball.
Jason Maddox, who McIntosh calls the brains of the operation, works with the pitchers on flat-ground throwing. McIntosh works with the pitchers’ fielding practice, pickoffs and holding runners on base, covering first on grounders to the first baseman, fielding comebackers to the mound, turning double plays and defending squeeze plays.
“Not only do we have a seven-deep pitching staff, we have a three-deep pitching coach staff that is probably unprecedented at the high school level,” McDaniel said. “I have a wealth of knowledge from my pitching coaches, and they have a great feel for where our staff is at right now.”
That staff currently has a 3.20 ERA. North went through a hitting slump around the time of the Conference Indiana Tournament, but has recovered.
That bodes well for the Bull Dogs going into the regional.
“I like our chances going into it,” Thompson said. “We got hot at the right time, and our bats are going, and our pitching is doing what we’re supposed to be doing and our defense is not making any errors and knocking the ball down and making plays. We plan on going in with the same mentality we did in sectional, which is ‘Just go out there and do your job and throw your pitches, and the defense will do their work.'”
Parker Maddox echoed those same sentiments. To an extent, so did Clark.
“We always have something to prove,” Clark said. “We didn’t have the best record in the regular season, but we’ve started to put it together lately. So I’d take our chances against anybody.”