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JCA bats back Drake Fellows, George Manikas in sweep

JOLIET – Playing on Thursday afternoon for the first time in about a week, Joliet Catholic managed five hits and dropped a 6-2 decision at Coal City.

No disrespect to the Coalers, but that did not necessarily bode well for the Hilltoppers entering Saturday’s East Suburban Catholic Conference doubleheader against Carmel at Gillespie Field.

Then again, baseball is the game where things can change on a day-to-day basis.

All JCA (6-5, 2-0) did Saturday was rattle 27 hits around the yard in a 10-7, 13-3 sweep, while Carmel (5-3, 0-2), which had beaten a couple of name programs recently, boarded the bus and began the regrouping process.

“No ‘O’ in the Coal City game,” JCA coach Jared Voss said. “But that was our first game in a week and we hadn’t seen much live pitching. Today, the weather was good, we hit the ball well and how about it – George gave up only four hits.”

Senior right-hander George Manikas (2-1) went the seven-inning distance in Game 2, throwing 90 pitches, after staff ace Drake Fellows (4-0) won the opener. The only run Manikas allowed after the first inning was Eddie Pietschmann’s solo home run in the sixth.

“As of now, George is solid behind Drake in the rotation,” Voss said.

“The first couple of innings I couldn’t find the strike zone consistently,” the Lewis-bound Manikas said. “After the second inning, I was comfortable. Our defense made a lot of hard plays look easy behind me.

“We need our pitchers to step up. I’m definitely trying to be that one main guy behind Drake (Fellows).”

Fellows allowed five hits and five runs, two earned in 5 1⁄3 innings in the opener before Jared Jones finished up. The cleanup hitter, Fellows dove head-first into third on a three-base error in the bottom of the third inning and jarred his right knee, after which Carmel scored three times in the fourth. Then he was hit in the lower back by a pitch and was stung, and he then allowed two runs in the sixth.

He said the hurts had nothing to do with the Carmel rallies, however.

“I thought I was pitching well,” Fellows said. “There were some errors that made innings worse than they should have been. I got my fastball up to 94 (mph) today, and only a couple hitters hit the ball really good.”

Fellows, Manikas and everyone else on the Hilltoppers’ staff would enjoy the offensive support the warm Saturday brought. For example:

• Eight of the nine starters in each game had at least one hit.

• Sophomore Justin Conant led off in both games and had three hits, two walks, two sacrifice bunts and reached base seven times.

“KC (Simonoch), Drake and both Jacks (Surin and Naal) have been hitting all year (in the top half of the lineup),” Voss said. “We need one other guy to get on base consistently for them. Maybe Justin can be the guy. He gives us a little diversity because he can play different positions.”

Conant played second base in Game 1 and left field in Game 2. When he chased down a long fly ball in the second game, Voss hollered from the dugout, “Nice catch, Ben Zobrist,” a reference to Conant’s versatility.

• Simonich had three hits and three RBIs in Game 1, a hit and two RBIs in Game 2. His day included an inside-the-park, two-run homer in the opener and back-to-back running catches in right field in the nightcap.

“I was thinking three right away,” he said of his blast to the deepest corner of left-center field that went for the inside-the-park rarity. “I thought I might have a chance to make home. I took a big round at third and by the time I saw the stop sign (from Voss), I had already shifted my momentum toward home. I thought it was too late, so I kept going.”

As for his web games, Simonich, said, “I just love to take balls that I have to run and get.”

* Naal matched Simonich with three hits and three RBIs in the opener and added two hits in Game 2. Surin had two hits and an RBI in each game. Fellows cracked three hits and three RBIs on the day.

• From the 6-hole, Dan Devine had two hits in Game 1, first baseman Jack Howard – who started double plays in each of the first two innings of the second game, one with a diving catch of a line drive – had a double and single in Game 2. Joe Buhay chipped in a hit and RBI in each game.

“We hit awesome today,” Simonich said. “Everybody contributed. We’ve got to approach every day that way.”

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