All systems rolling for Franklin Regional baseball

Friday, April 26, 2019 | 6:50 PM

Franklin Regional baseball coach Bobby Sadler laughed and then paused for a few seconds when deciding if pitching or hitting was going better for his team.

“That’s tough, because both are really going well for us,” he said. “Everything seems to be going right for us.”

With five players hitting at or above .400 and a pitching staff with three shutouts, it probably could be considered a tie.

Add a solid defense into the mix and it has been fun times at Franklin Regional.

The Panthers started the season 10-1 and 7-0 in Section 1-5A.

“I look forward to going to the field every day,” Panthers pitcher Michael Klingensmith said. “There’s not one single kid on the team that I don’t like. I love being a part of the team. All the coaches are very open to suggestions. We’re kind of rolling as a unit.”

It starts with a pitching staff fronted by seniors Palmer Jackson, Klingensmith and Bronson Ianno and complemented by sophomore Andrew Muraco and junior Connor Helm.

Sadler said they all throw multiple pitches for strikes.

Jackson, a Notre Dame golf recruit, throws a devastating knuckleball. He has developed the pitch over the years and passed on his knuckleball knowledge. Klingensmith said Jackson showed him how to throw the pitch in seventh grade.

Jackson said he doesn’t rack up too many strikeouts, but he pitches to contact and relies on his defense. He and the rest of the staff have confidence in the guys behind them.

“I can throw any pitch I want, and I know our guys are going to stop it,” Jackson said. “I’ve worked to play the groundball out and the occasional strikeout.”

All of the Panthers pitchers also believe in Bryce Harper. No, not the Philadelphia Phillies star outfielder, but the confident junior Franklin Regional catcher who shares the same name.

Sadler lauded Harper for his game-calling ability.

Jackson joked when he first heard there was a someone named Bryce Harper a grade below him, he thought he was probably “some goofball that shares the same name with a famous baseball player,” but once he saw him play, he knew he was more than a name.

The pair formed a strong connection.

“Bryce calls a game better than I would myself,” Jackson said. “I don’t think any of our pitchers shake off Bryce much, and that’s what you need as a pitcher. You don’t want to question what the catcher is calling behind the plate.”

Klingensmith was roommates with Harper during Franklin Regional’s season-opening Florida trip, and the pair bonded by going fishing in their down time.

For Harper, it’s a pleasure to catch Jackson and Klingensmith.

“Catching Palmer is unique because his curveball is filthy, and his knuckleball is even better than his curveball,” Harper said. “Michael throws hard, so there’s that aspect of it, and his curveball is also filthy. I’ve been with them since my freshman year — their sophomore year — and it’s been cool to see them grow into what they are now.”

Offensively, Klingensmith, Harper, Jake Williams, Tommy Keggereis and freshman Thomas Nicely are batting above .400, and the Panthers average more than seven runs per game.

Having an offense that puts up crooked numbers on the scoreboard gives the pitchers assurance they can be aggressive in the strike zone.

“As a pitcher, it’s very relieving to know in almost all instances that we’re going to hit the ball well,” Jackson said. “Our team does a good job of finding ways to score even if we are down. There was a game in Florida where we were down a couple of runs, and we ended up coming back late to win the game. It’s awesome to know that we can put up a 20 spot in one game and we can win 1-0, too, if we need to win a pitcher’s duel.”

The Panthers are enjoying the moment, and they believe they can keep it rolling. At the same time, they are weary that they need to stay sharp as the postseason approaches.

“A big thing as a coaching staff that we talk about is self-reflection,” Sadler said. “I know I go home and reflect back on the game, and I know the kids go home and self-reflect on baseball as well. I like where we are at right now, but you don’t want to be satisfied at the end of April. The moment you’re satisfied, other teams get better and catch up with you towards the middle of May. I don’t think that’ll happen to this group, because they know what their goals are and they are steadfast in achieving those goals.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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