The Scranton Knights had some adjustments to make as they opened defense of their Lackawanna League Division 1 baseball title.
Tanner Schmidt has provided the answer to two of the team’s biggest questions, putting himself in the middle of the only unbeaten start in the entire league.
Schmidt was at it again Monday when the Knights outscored West Scranton, 12-10, in a meeting of 4-0 teams to determine sole possession of the Division 1 lead.
A total of five teams entered the week with unbeaten records, but only the Knights still stand tall after West Scranton in Division 1, Old Forge and Riverside in Division 2 and Blue Ridge in Division 3 suffered their first defeats.
“Being undefeated feels great,” senior Tim Fisch said. “We feel like we’re in a good position right now.”
Landing in a good position has not been easy for the Knights, who have won all their games by three runs or less behind an overpowering top third of the batting order and a rebuilt pitching staff that has done just enough.
Schmidt, a junior pitcher/third baseman, has been right in the middle of both. After playing on the junior varsity and seeing limited varsity time last season, he has joined top returnees Fisch, Joe McCarthy and Kyle Booth in leading the way for the Knights.
“He’s our number-one pitcher now,” Scranton coach Jamie Higgins said of Schmidt, who worked the final inning to save Monday’s win. “He has two wins and the save.
“He throws strikes.”
And, he handles them at the plate.
Schmidt has moved from seventh to second in the batting order, fitting in between Fisch and McCarthy. All three are batting well over .400 to rank just behind Booth’s team-leading .500 average.
“Tanner’s kind of pulling double duty for us,” Higgins said. “He moved up to the two-hole and he’s doing well in that spot making contact.”
The top third of the lineup was at its best against West Scranton.
Fisch and Schmidt got it started with three hits and three runs each. McCarthy followed with a single, double and three RBI.
McCarthy, already leading the team in runs, moved into a tie with Booth for the team lead in RBI.
Higgins has been happy with the way McCarthy, perhaps the league’s most feared power hitter, has handled being the focal point of most opponents’ scouting reports.
“It’s funny to watch when Joe comes up how much different kids deal with him,” Higgins said. “He has a reputation and kids are real careful. He knows it. He’s doing a good job seeing some pitches and using all fields.”
Higgins said that was evident in the first inning against West Scranton when McCarthy waited for his chance to drive in the game’s first two runs.
“West pitched him away and pitched him away,” Higgins said. “He got two strikes against him, adjusted, went the other way and doubled down the line for two runs.”
Fisch, who has undergone his own lineup adjustment this season by moving from second base to the outfield, gets the offense started from the leadoff spot. He’s used to igniting the attack after running the point on Scranton’s two straight championship basketball teams.
“He’s a nightmare on the bases,” Higgins said. “He’s real fast.”
That speed was the reason Fisch was moved defensively. He patrols center field when McCarthy pitches and otherwise spends most of his time in left field.
The look is a little different, but the Knights are still putting together wins, something they are doing more effectively than any other team in the league this season.