PENDLETON — The return of Jake Harris to the Pendleton Heights lineup brought added energy to the dugout. In his third start since reentering the batting order he also showed the tangible results he can achieve.
Harris had four hits, including a grand slam home run, and drove in a career high nine runs as the Arabians held off the Lapel Bulldogs 16-8 on Senior Night Tuesday, May 16, in Pendleton.
The win for Pendleton Heights (17-5) snapped a six-game winning streak for Lapel (11-6).
After walking and scoring in the first inning, Harris began his assault on the Bulldog pitching staff in the second inning, during which he put the Arabians on top 4-3 with a two-run double. An RBI single in the third and another two-run double in the fifth followed. His double in the fifth tied the game after the Bulldogs had taken the lead with five runs in the top of the inning.
With the Arabians leading 10-8 entering the bottom of the sixth, Harris stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and hammered an 0-1 pitch over the fence in left field off Devan Frank.
As the team’s leadoff hitter for three years, Harris is accustomed to working the count. But on his four hits, he was aggressive, seeing a total of seven pitches.
“Coach (Travis) Keesling stresses first pitch strikes,” Harris said. “A lot of coaches want you to see the ball and stuff like that. But a lot of times the best pitch you’re going to see is the first pitch, so I go up there looking for a first pitch fastball.”
The presence of Harris in the lineup means a lot to the team and its coach.
“Jake’s a player and always has been,” Keesling said. “I hate that he lost the majority of his season and he was just itching to get back as quickly as he can. But he’s a competitor, regardless, and he’s going to go out there and compete, and he adds a little something to the top of the lineup.”
Lapel coach Matt Campbell was pleased with his team’s performance and the way they battled to stay in the game, actually leading 8-6 after four innings. But there was too much Jake Harris on this day, and Campbell and his team will continue preparing for next week’s sectional.
“I don’t have to see him anymore, so I don’t care about him,” Campbell said of Harris. “You know, defensively, we’re still playing well — we put together some good at-bats, and our pitchers threw strikes all night. It’s a loss, but I’m OK with it. Going forward, we’re still playing the way we want to.”
Senior Eston Stull added three hits, including a double, scored three runs, and drove in one as the Arabians honored their 15 seniors, a record class, prior to the game. It is a group that has stayed together and contributed, despite not always getting the playing time they would like.
“They’re phenomenal,” Keesling said. “They have bought in to everything that we threw at them. They have bought in to their roles, they bought in to the philosophies, and the results are a byproduct of that.”
Symbolic of the goals for this team, the Arabians have worn warm-up shirts with one word across the back: “Finish.”
“We’re not done yet,” Keesling said. “We want to finish the job, but I’m glad they got to enjoy their final home game like this.”
“This year is kind of special,” Harris added. “We have guys who don’t get a lot of playing time because we have so many seniors. We’ve all grown up together and played together. You have guys who haven’t batted all year, but they’re leading, breaking down huddles and always ready to go.”
The Arabians will go for a Hoosier Heritage Conference championship when they travel to Delta for a Friday, May 19, doubleheader.