Prep Baseball Report

Noblesville Tops Rival Fishers 12-11

Rich Torres
PBR Indiana Correspondent

FISHERS – Justin Keever praised his team’s grit on Thursday night, but the Noblesville Millers head coach wasn’t sugarcoating anything either.

A win is a win in Keever’s book, but he couldn’t ignore the obvious after his Class 4A No. 21 Millers narrowly survived a slugfest with No. 15 Fishers 12-11 to improve to 3-0 in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference.

“Luckily tonight, we swung the bats well, and that covered up a lot of our blemishes, but we can’t count on that,” Keever remarked after the Millers (5-5) won their series opener against the host Tigers. “It’s not going to be the same way every time. The game is too hard, but I’m proud of the way our guys fought.”

The Millers’ fortitude was vital as the defending 4A state champion Tigers took an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, scoring both runs on two of Noblesville’s five errors overall.

Fishers broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the third with a four-run inning, capped by a towering three-run home run from Navy commit Kiel Brenczewski, but the Millers responded to knot up the game 6-6 again before breaking away for good in the fifth.

The catalyst came from the bottom half of the batting order where eight-hole hitter Ethan Imel, a junior, caught fire.

Imel went 3-for-4, falling just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle, while driving in six runs and scoring twice.

The slugging right-handed catcher evened the score 2-2 in the top of the second with a two-out, two-run double against Butler recruit Jon Vore, which set the tone for the Millers’ approach at the plate.

He added a three-run home run in the top of the fourth that deadlocked the game 6-6 as the ball easily cleared the left-center field fence on a 2-2 offering against Vore, who was charged with seven earned runs through 4.0 innings pitched.

The Tigers’ ace walked one, surrendered eight of Noblesville’s 12 hits and didn’t record a strikeout.   

“Ethan had a really big night tonight, no doubt about it. A big three-run jack that got us back going, but there were so many great at-bats for our guys tonight,” Keever said. “We needed it because that was absolutely atrocious for us on defense. 

"That was the worst I’ve ever seen us play, practice game, you name it. It was bad. We didn’t pitch it all that much better either. We walked nine guys, five errors, just uncharacteristic of how we’ve played up so far this year in terms of defensively and on the mound.”

The Tigers didn’t fair much better as the Millers logged at least one hit in five of the game’s seven frames, while stranding just three base runners.

Vore, who was 2-0 on the season prior to Thursday, recently spun a gem against HCC rival Zionsville on April 4, limiting the Eagles to two hits over 8.0 innings with 14 strikeouts in a 1-0 victory.

“He didn’t have his stuff tonight. He knew it. We knew it. He came in the first, and he knew it wasn’t there, and the wind was playing tricks with his mind, but he competed and fought the best he could,” Fishers head coach Matthew Cherry said. “He just didn’t have what he had last week.”

Imel, however, found another gear and some good fortune in the box. 

He reached base for a third straight time in the top of the fifth on a strikeout, passed ball and later scored on a two-run double by nine-hole hitter Lucas Williams.

The Millers chased Vore in top of the fifth after an error put Cooper Miles on base and a single by D.J. Owens moved the runners into scoring position. 

Cade Nelis drove in both Millers after he turned a nine-pitch at-bat turned into a two-run double against reliever Tristan Baker.

Nelis, an Eckerd College commit, finished 2-for-4 with three RBI. Williams went 2-for-3, and Owens was 2-for-4. The Millers had five at-bats that spanned five pitches or more.

“We knew (Vore) carved up Zionsville last week, so we wanted to get his pitch count up,” Imel said. “And the defense was struggling, so the offense had to make up for it and drive him out of the game. With two strikes (against Vore), I was just trying not to get beat. He threw me a hanging curveball, and I just got a barrel to it (for the home run).”

Imel ended his day with a two-out single to left field in the top of the seventh.

“I think we’re pretty dangerous, one through nine. We got a lot of guys that can get on at the top, and we can bring them in from the middle or lower part of the order,” Imel said. “We’re never out of ball games. We have a good bench mob, staying in the game, keeping the energy up.”

The Tigers refused to roll over despite trailing by six runs after the top of the fifth.

Brenczewski’s second home run on the year chased Millers’ starter Camden Nagel, who went 2.1 innings with five runs allowed (three earned), three walks and one strikeout with three hits against.

Ethan Leslie gave up five runs through 2.2 innings with five walks and three strikeouts in relief, but the Millers tide-turning fifth frame secured him the win.

“That one inning we gave them five outs. We put a couple of pitches where they didn’t need to be, left them out over the plate with two strikes. There are a bunch of things where you can do what ifs, but I’m just proud of our guys and how they fought back,” Cherry said. “Being down six, they’re a young group figuring out they can compete.”

The Tigers cut the deficit 12-9 in the bottom of the fifth with a three-run rally. A bases-loaded walk by Charlie Walker and and RBI by Nick Lukac on a fielder’s choice was followed by an RBI-groundout from Grant Whetsel.

Daniel Owens laced a double for an RBI in the bottom of the sixth and Kaid Muth scored on an error to bring the Tigers within one run. 

Owens went 2-for-3, and Dominic Oliverio was 2-for-3 with an RBI single in the third inning. 

Jack Braun finished 2-for-4, and Brenczewski was a perfect 3-for-3 with a double and a walk to go with his longball.

The Tigers had nine hits, but they left six runners on base, including four in scoring position and the bases loaded in the bottom of the third. Fishers loaded the bases four times, twice in the third and fifth.

Leslie escaped with the bags packed in the fifth by inducing a pair of pop ups. Matt Peek, a senior right-hander, stymied the Tigers after taking the mound in the bottom of the sixth.

Peek went 2.0 innings with two strikeouts and held the Tigers hitless. The Tigers had a runner on second base with no outs in the sixth before Peek got Oliverio to line into a double play and picked off Braun at first base after he reached on an error.

“Peek slammed the door, pitched really well for us, got us out of a jam,” Keever said. “We had two good plays there at the end by D.J. (Owens at second base), and that’s actually the most important thing because this isn’t a style show. It’s a 12-round fight, so our guys found a way to get it done tonight.”

The Tigers (4-6, 1-2 HCC) travel to The Dunk in Noblesville tonight seeking a series sweep with Butler recruit Clay Holzworth scheduled to start. The Millers remain unbeaten in the HCC along with No. 4 Hamilton Southeastern and Westfield.

“(Friday) is a new day, so we’re going to have to lace them up and play like heck because they have a proud program obviously, so they aren’t going to want us to get the sweep,” Keever said. “We have a tall order ahead.”