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JUCO baseball: Smithburg clinches IHCC win over Lakers

Mar. 29—CENTERVILLE — George Straight might have the hit song.

On Friday night at Pat Daugherty Field, it was Nate Smithburg who deserved to be called the fireman. The former Fairfield standout put out a fire that could have engulfed the Indian Hills baseball team in the opener of a three-game Iowa Community College Athletic Conference series with Iowa Lakes.

One hit away from completely erasing a five-run deficit in the fifth, the Lakers were instead shut down by Smithburg over the final 2 1/3 innings. Five strikeouts and a pop up back to the mound allowed Smithburg to personally record six of the final seven outs, clinching an 8-6 win for Indian Hills.

"I've come in a couple of those situations this year and I don't feel like I've done my job," Smithburg said. "I was in the bullpen getting ready and I knew what the situation was going to be. Once I put out the fire, I was in my element. I was in my zone. Throwing strikes is what I've focused my approach on. I'm glad I was able to execute it in those final innings."

Playing the role of visitor on their home diamond, Indian Hills jumped out to a 3-0 lead without even connecting on a hit. Endi Jaquez, J.J. Dutton and Zachari Pace each drew walks to open the contest before coming home on RBI groundouts by Raul Torres and Logan Myers as well as a throwing error on a double steal that allowed Dutton to score all the way from second base.

Raul Torres stretched out IHCC's lead in the second inning, driving in Ciro Benavides as both Warrior players collected hits during the rally. Iowa Lakes, however, countered with three doubles in the bottom of the second, cutting the lead to 4-2 while putting the tying runs in scoring position with two outs.

After striking out the side in the first, Cole Huebner struck out Fernando Bones looking to end the Laker threat. Indian Hills added to the lead in the third on a deep sacrifice fly to center by Miguel Salazar, scoring Logan Myers before a two-out, two-run double to right by Miguel Padron put Indian Hills on top 7-2 after four.

Iowa Lakes, however, refused to go away. The Lakers chopped into the Warrior lead scoring four runs on four hits in the bottom of the fifth, forcing a pair of pitching changes by the Warriors.

Iowa Lakes put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position before the rally was over. Smithburg, however, ended the threat striking out Anthony Ferrer on two breaking balls after inheriting a 2-1 count to keep the Warriors on top.

"Coach (Matthew Torrez) told me that approach when I came out to the mound," Smithburg said. "I focused my warm-ups on that, then focused on executing."

Smithburg wasn't out of danger yet, however, as Iowa Lakes stayed within 7-6 heading into the bottom of the sixth with the top of the order coming back up after igniting the four-run fifth inning rally. Smithburg set down the Lakers in order, taking in a pop up back to the mound off the bat of Fernando Beans before ending the game by striking out the final four batters that Iowa Lakes would send to the plate.

"I had the confidence to know that I was better than the hitters. That was my approach going in there," Smithburg said. "My hitters gave me seven runs. That's all I needed. Even with just a one-run cushion, I was going to do my job. My mindset was that I was going to be better than every guy that stepped in the box."

Zachari Pace singled and scored on a sacrifice fly to left by Dylan Sayles, giving Smithburg a two-run lead to work with. Smithburg can somewhat be credited with the last two wins for the Warriors after making an impassioned speech on Wednesday following an 8-7 loss to NIACC in the first of two regional games, helping light the fire that led to IHCC's 17-2 win over the Trojans in the nightcap.

"We have an older team this year, but we also brought in a lot of freshmen," Smithburg said. "There are a lot of guys that can lead. It's one of those things that you never know who's going to do it. In that situation on Wednesday, I felt like I needed to step up. I expect that role of myself, especially when I feel like I could have executed better within the lines."

Game two of the series with Iowa Lakes was still ongoing on Friday night as the Courier went to press. The teams wrap up the series with a single nine-inning game on Saturday starting at 1 p.m.

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.