TERRE HAUTE —
The season-long five-game winning streak of the Terre Haute Rex came to an end Wednesday night at Dubois County.
The Bombers’ 8-4 victory reduced their magic number to just one victory to clinch the Prospect League West Division’s first-half title.
Kyle Kempf led the Rex, who led 3-2 until Dubois County tied the score at 3-3 in the seventh, with three hits.
But on Tuesday, The Terre Haute Rex moved within four games of the first-place Dubois County Bombers, scoring the first 11 runs in a 12-6 shellacking at Bob Warn Field.
Since the first-half division winner secures a playoff spot — and the first half ends Sunday — the Rex have the best shot to overtake the Bombers thanks to three remaining matchups with Dubois County.
With five straight victories, manager Brian Dorsett’s squad has momentum on its side heading into tonight’s game at League Stadium in Huntingburg.
Michael Schroeder had an RBI single and a two-run blast off the scoreboard in right-center field to give put him into the Prospect League lead in RBIs with 27.
“I’m seeing the ball well, I like being up in those situations. As a hitter, if you get a man in scoring position, that’s what you have to do, get them in,” said Schroeder, who has shown power to all fields. His third home run of the season greeted Indiana State veteran Kurt Kudrecki, who came out of the bullpen in the fourth for Dubois County. Schroeder connected on Kudrecki’s second pitch.
“I got a hanging off-speed pitch and just got the barrel out there,” Schroeder said.
Nick Johnson had a two-run double, driving in four runs for the Rex, and Kyle Zimmerman had a season-high three hits.
“Knowing who we are as a team is the big thing, knowing what we all can do in our role on the team. And our pitching staff’s bringing it together right now. It’s just all clicking,” Schroeder said.
While catching Dubois County would be tough — the Bombers’ magic number is two — Dorsett thinks his team could make it interesting.
“That’s our goal, keep pressure on them. We’ll take it one game at a time,” Dorsett said. “The offense is heating up. Kyle Kempf had some really good at-bats today. Nick Johnson, putting the ball in play with two strikes, good situational hitting. Schroeder’s been driving in some big runs for us, and good to see Zimmerman have a big night.”
Starting pitcher Will Robinson had his best outing of the summer, scattering four hits and walking one in six shutout innings.
“He got up to around 90 pitches, just trying to take care of his arm,” Dorsett said. “He was mixing it up really well. He was using the inside part of the plate as well as the outside part of the plate. He just put it in there head that he could throw the breaking ball for a strike at any time.”
Dubois County 000 000 501 — 6 7 1
Terre Haute Rex 004 520 01x — 12 14 1
Sapp (L), Kudrecki (4) and Tavares; Robinson (W, 1-1), Dartnell (7), Timmerman (8), Dove (9) and Norwood.
Highlights — For Terre Haute, Nick Johnson went 2 for 3 with 4 RBIs; Michael Schroeder 2 for 4 with 3 RBIs; Brian Norwood 2 for 3 with an RBI; Kyle Zimmerman 3 for 5 with 3 runs; and Chandler 2 for 4. For Dubois County, Indiana State’s Landon Curry went 1 for 5 with a double and a run.
I I I
n Earning their keep — Terre Haute’s Josh Dove earned a full-time gig with the Rex after tossing four scoreless innings of relief during his seven-day contract.
Earlier this season, when the team was waiting on originally-rostered players to arrive, the Rex picked up Kyle Kempf, a redshirt freshman from University of Southern Indiana, and Alex Reynolds, a junior from East Tennessee State.
Kempf, who starred at Evansville Bosse, found himself a home in center field and has served as the No. 3 or No. 2 hitter, accumulating a .330 batting average in 25 games.
Reynolds joins Kempf among the top 20 hitters in the Prospect League with a .320 average. The Rex offense was a bit inconsistent out of the gate, but Kempf and Reynolds provided some stability.
And “as the season’s gone on, everybody’s starting to hit now, everyone’s found their stroke. It’s been a lot more fun,” Reynolds said.
Unsure if he’d find a summer team to play for without a collegiate resume yet, Kempf was thrilled to make the two-hour drive to Terre Haute. Kempf quickly adjusted to suggestions to his swing mechanics from manager Brian Dorsett and assistant Ronnie Prettyman.
“After the first couple games, we noticed a couple things,” Dorsett said. “He’s a quick learner. He trusts his hands, he’s got quick hands and keeps his body back.”
• Counting on Creighton righty — Tommy Strunc leads the Rex with a 2.05 earned-run average. He’s 2-2 with 31 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings.
Strunc has made all five of his starts away from Bob Warn Field, including Wednesday night’s game at League Stadium against Dubois County. Strunc tossed 6 2/3 innings with six strikeouts Wednesday.
Strunc was a redshirt freshman for one of Indiana State’s rivals within the Missouri Valley Conference, the Creighton Bluejays, the redshirt status meaning Strunc trained his arm but did not pitch in games. Rex relief pitcher John Oltman, who has a 7.36 ERA, was also a Creighton redshirt in 2012.
“I liked it. We had 13 senior on our roster and another junior that got drafted in the fifth round, eight of those guys are our bullpen,” Strunc said. “Out of high school, I knew I may not get much playing tine, but I just wanted to get better.”
Strunc said he has gained velocity since high school, consistently hitting the upper 80s and low 90s on the radar gun.
“At Creighton we did three bullpens a weekend; it’s tough on your arm, but definitely built up strength and endurance in your arm. But then we did long toss during the week. Arm strengthening stuff, and through the season we continued to lift hard. Now, if I’m not hitting 90-91 in first inning, it’s bad,” Strunc said.