ELKHART — Plymouth power hitter Damon Howe took it personally when the Pilgrims’ rally fell short at Elkhart Memorial Wednesday.
When Plymouth made the pilgrimage back to Elkhart on Friday, this time for a Northern Lakes Conference showdown with Concord, Howe did something about it.
Howe drove in five of Plymouth’s six runs as the Pilgrims broke the game open with a big third inning to claim a 10-2 NLC victory on the road at Concord and stay in the hunt for an NLC championship.
“He struggled on Wednesday,” said Plymouth head baseball coach Tony Plothow of Howe. “I know he didn’t feel good about the way he hit on Wednesday in some big situations. For him not to come through in those, it surprised us, and I know he was hurting like he might have let the team down on Wednesday. He came back big on Friday to keep us in this conference race. That’s what we expect out of him, and he definitely led us tonight.”
Richie Luva got the win going the distance on the mound for Plymouth, giving up nine hits with no walks and five strike-outs.
Luva got off to a shaky start off the bus as he allowed two runs in the bottom of the second and the Minutemen jumped off to the early lead, but Plymouth answered back with a pair of runs in the top of the third and Luva settled in backed by an errorless Pilgrims defensive effort to shut the door on the home team.
“We got down early; they jumped on us two-nothing in the bottom of the first with a couple big hits,” said Plothow. “Richie Luva settled down real well and ended up going the distance for us… Then we made some real good plays; no errors again tonight.”
The visitors scratched out six runs during a big third inning and tacked on another two for good measure in the fifth to cinch up the 10-2 win.
Connor Flynn kept Plymouth alive in the second with a ground ball that was misplayed to score the tying run. The Pilgrims jumped on the Minutemen again in the third as Howe hit a base-clearing double with the bags loaded, Kyle Cartwright doubled and Howe went yard for the final two runs of the game as the order came back around again during the big frame.
Key to Plymouth’s infield defense as well as its offense was Flynn, who filled the shortstop slot with Luva on the mound. The junior started out the season rotating between third, second and short and has done a solid job throughout, but he’s settled into the middle for the Pilgrims as their infield lineup has solidified.
“We’ve pretty much settled him in in the middle where he’s been comfortable playing,” Plothow said. “We knew we were going to play him somewhere; we were just trying to figure things out in the first couple weeks. He’s really settled in there. Like tonight at short, he’s not only making the routine plays, but he’s making plays that we would consider special to keep our pitchers out of big innings. He’s just been constant all year. He really started hitting the ball well at Memorial and had another big hit tonight, so that’s coming around. He’s got to be consistent for us in that way, and he’s really stepping up and filling that role for us right now.”
The Pilgrims stay in the hunt for the NLC title at 6-2 with Friday’s win and move to 12-5 overall on the year. They’ll host an elite tournament field today at the Plymouth Baseball Tournament. Plymouth’s first game is slated for 1 p.m.
“This tournament is always a tough spot for a lot of the teams in it,” said Plothow. “Last year we had a state champion in Carroll; this year we’ve got undefeated Penn and Carroll right there with two losses and a big powerhouse in Crown Point. Last year we had three of the four teams ranked and the year before we had all four teams ranked, so it’s a nice tournament, but it’s right in the middle of everyone’s conference season. It’s going to be a nice checkpoint to see where we are with some of these elite programs in the state, and tonight was big for confidence going into that.”
• PLYMOUTH 10, CONCORD 2
Plymouth: 026 020 0 — 10 9 0
Concord: 200 000 0 — 2 9 3
WP: Richie Luva; LP: Seth Huxford.
2B: Damon Howe (P), Kyle Cartwright 2 (P), Drake Fisher (C), Nick Defreese (C), Cain Crowley (C).
3B: Nick Wysong (C)
HR: Howe (P).
Record: 12-5 (6-2 NLC).