Closing time: Pangburn finds success as a late-inning reliever for Lake Central
ST. JOHN -- It wasn't by design that Conor Pangburn wound up in a late-inning role on the Lake Central pitching staff, it's just worked out that way.
"We thought he would be somebody who pitched varsity last year, but not having seen him, we didn't know what kind of role he'd have," Indians coach Mike Swartzentruber said. "We knew he's be one of our top three, four guys. We used to him close a game early on because he was our next best pitcher available and he did well. The next thing you know, he's got three, four saves. He's a competitor."
Pangburn worked three innings of two-hit ball, striking out seven, to preserve an 8-7 Duneland Athletic Conference victory.
"I like starting more, but closing is a totally different energy," Pangburn said. "Everyone's kind of counting on you. You get the nerves up there, but everyone's always pumping me up. When I'm starting, I have a whole routine, plio balls, all that. If I know one of these guys is starting, I'll still do band work, body blades, before the game, just so I know I'm ready if I have to go in at any time. (Swartzentruber) told me if things started getting a little iffy, I'd come in. If not, I'd start (Friday) against Munster."
The call came in the fifth inning after Connor Misch gave up two hits and a walk to load the bases in an 8-3 game.
"We didn't want to use him again because they saw him (Tuesday), but he was our next best guy," Swartzentruber said. "I would have loved to started him at Munster (Friday) night, but right now, we're not getting seven innings. After (the top three), I'm not really sure where we go. That's not enough to be where we want to be, to be competitive, night in and night out."
It started inauspiciously for Pangburn, who gave up a bases-clearing double to Carson Stalbaum and a two-out double to Gavin Zolvinski to reduce the margin from four to one, but that was the last baserunner he allowed. Pangburn set down the last seven Slicers in succession with five Ks.
"It's pretty much the same thing -- go out there and try to do my best to miss barrels if they put the ball in play, do my best job at getting outs," Pangburn said. "I don't throw as hard as those guys, so I know I have to trust my off-speed a little more, coming in in relief. Everyone's always hyping me up, so that boosts me up. I knew they were going to put some balls in play at some point. I was just trying to locate pitches."
It's been a 180 in approach this school year for Pangburn, who used to try to beat hitters with simple velocity. Now he estimates throwing 80 percent curve balls.
"Before this year, I thought that I could just blow fastballs by and that wasn't working," he said. "I was trying to overpower people and it just wasn't going to keep up. It changed totally in the fall, playing with the Chiefs. I realized these guys are going to barrel up fastballs, so I started focusing more on off-speed perfecting my changeup, curve ball. Against Valpo, I was throwing 3-2 curve balls. If I can't find anything, I'll throw that."
The pitch Swartzentruber likes best is strike one.
"One thing you probably noticed is he is a strike thrower," he said. "That was a big part of our issue. You can have less than good stuff in high school. If you can throw strikes, you're going to be all right. He throws well as it is."
Much like Tuesday, the Indians (11-5, 6-2) came out swinging, roughing up Jack McGuire and Tommy Samuelson, making his varsity debut, for all of its runs in the first three innings. Josh Adamczewski had pair of RBI singles, Jerry Edwards and Blake Neyhart both doubled in runs, and Hunter Snyder scored twice.
"They hit," Upp said. "We just don't have guys who can blow it by people so we're really going to have to throw backwards. When we get behind or even even in the count and they can sit fastball, it's not a good situation for us. We had a couple situations where we overthrew our cutoff man and the next ball hit is a ground ball and that guy scores because we're just getting the out at first base. Those are little things that we've got to get corrected. We have to get our guys to understand that they don't have the Roberto Clemente arm they think they have."
Misch breezed through two innings, retiring the first six batters, but lost command in the third, walking two and hitting two as the Slicers (11-5, 5-3) scored three runs on one hit, a Stalbaum single.
"You don't like to lose but if you play the game right, the way you're supposed to, you battle, your kids are in the ball game, then at least you're not walking out of here spitting bullets," Upp said. "You're saying, OK, we can build on this. I was talking to our assistant superintendent (Ben Tonagel), and he said either you win or you learn. The last three games, I guess we're learning."
Hayden Lowe threw scoreless innings in relief for La Porte, which fell a game off the lead in the DAC.
"When they got it to one, I wasn't feeling very confident," Swartzentruber said. "Our first priority is to win the conference, as I'm sure Scott's is and everybody else's is, so we had to burn everybody."