By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Ethan Baer greeted Austin reliever Trevor Peters with the rudest welcome possible. First pitch – bang! A mammoth, 370-foot home run over the scoreboard in left-center field.
What followed was even more ill-mannered as Baer’s blast ignited a 12-run explosion in the fourth inning, powering Bedford North Lawrence to a 17-3, mercy-rule triumph over the Eagles on Tuesday afternoon.
Dalton Nikirk was 4-for-4 with 4 RBIs while Zane Harrison and Baer drove in three runs each, pushing the Stars (7-6) to their fourth straight victory.
BNL cranked out six hits and sent 16 batters to the plate during the devastating offensive eruption. Austin (7-3) needed three pitchers and a paramedic unit to get through the frame.
“Hitting is a tough trade,” BNL coach Jeff Callahan said. “And it can be very contagious when it goes well.”
Blame this on Baer, who crushed his first home run since his Little League days. That set the tone as Nikirk (two-run single), Baer (two-run single) and Harrison (who just missed a grand slam with a double off the left-field fence) kept the inning revolving and the Eagles spinning.
“It felt good,” Baer said. “I wasn’t looking for a home run. I was looking for something I could drive. It was good to hit one.”
Austin aided its own demise with 9 walks, 3 hit batters and 7 wild pitches. BNL’s plate patience was also rewarded. Contact was the key.
“Coach (Reggie) Joslin talks to the kids a lot about approach, about two-strike hitting and choking up,” Callahan said. “He’s kind of old school, you don’t hear that much any more. And that’s what we want to do.”
Nikirk was the prime example of that. He politely poked a two-strike pitch into right for two RBIs, ripped a double down the left-field line, and used the whole field. He’s gone 11-for-23 during a six-game hitting streak since delegated to a seat in the dugout during the doubleheader with Rockford.
“I’m motivated,” Nikirk said. “I got benched, and I’ve been on a hit streak ever since. I’ve been seeing the ball well. Tonight I choked up on the bat. I pride myself in not striking out. I just got lucky and found the right holes.”
“That’s the kind of at-bat we need,” Callahan said of the punch to right during the 12-run fourth. “That was a quality at-bat. He did a nice job of not trying to do too much.”
Harrison had two doubles, the best the blast that rattled one of the outfield signs. “He attacks,” Callahan said. “He gets his hacks in there, that’s for sure. He doesn’t get cheated.”
BNL pitchers Joey Thacker (3 runs in 3 1/3 innings) and Aden Pemberton (1 2/3 innings of relief with 2 strikeouts) kept the Eagles grounded, save for the three-run third. Peyton Holan highlighted that brief rally with a two-run single that cut BNL’s lead – at the time – to 5-3. That didn’t last long once the hit parade started.
“We’re not depending on one or two guys,” Callahan said. “It can be different guys on different nights. That’s a good thing when you have tough outs up and down the order. Baseball is a game of confidence and momentum, hopefully we can keep things going our direction.”
The Stars will host Indian Creek on Thursday.