DON’T LOOK NOW, BUT HERE COME THE RABBITS!

THE DEAN’S LIST BY DEAN HOCKNEY

Don’t look now, but just when I was about to count out the Kokomo Jackrabbits, here they come back to life. Despite losing its top two pitchers, the hares have tied a team record with five consecutive Municipal Stadium wins and are now only 2½ games out of the East Division playoffs with 25 games to play.

As teams enter week six of the season, the Jackrabbits are 16-19 after twice going seven games under .500 (as recently as July 3). But they have now won four straight – including two against rival and West Division-leading Lafayette (20-15) – and six of its last eight games and are showing signs of being the contender management thought they would be at the beginning of the season.

But the road to playoff contention has been rocky – gone are leading pitchers William Freeman (league leading 59 strikeouts, team leading four wins and an ERA of 2.58) and Mike Anthony (Jackrabbits all-time wins leader with nine and strikeouts with 110; career ERA of 3.20). Also no longer with the team for various reasons are pitchers Ryne Underwood, Jack Wolfe, J.T. Conti, Trey Bickel (32 career appearances with 74 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.05), Collin Lollar and Chase Vanek.

But new pitcher David Flattery thrilled fans with an eight-strikeout performance in his debut last week. Quentin Miller is in his second season with the Rabbits and has looked good with a 3.26 ERA in nine games. Josh Konecek threw 4 1/3 innings of shutout relief work in the last victory. And a trio of local products are looking strong – Tucker Waddups from Logansport (4.20 ERA), Western’s Dalton Leighty (13 strikeouts in 11 innings) and Tri-Central’s Colby Malson (five strikeouts in six innings).

On offense, despite losing two-way player Conti (.333 batting average), newcomers Bailey Partlow (.385 in eight games) and Zeb Adreon (.333 in six games) join a lineup that is starting to click. Imani Willis is hitting .344 with five doubles, five triples and three home runs; Luke Fegen now leads the team with 19 RBIs from the leadoff position; Romero Harris has tied the Jackrabbits single-season home run record with four; and crowd-favorite Alex Del Rio has three home runs and 17 RBIs. And fresh from the NCAA national runners-up Louisiana State University, Chris Reid has arrived and is adjusting to the wood bat league in time for the playoff run.

The playoffs are different this year in the Prospect League. Gone is the split season with the first-half winner battling the second-half winner in the first round. This year, the top two teams in each division (overall record) will play a three-game series with the two division champs playing for the league crown. With the way Kokomo is playing, they have a good chance to pass Butler (18-17), Chillicothe (19-17) and West Virginia (18-16) in the standings – and that would leave an East Division playoff series against Champion City (21-14).

The Jackrabbits are on the road this week; they return on Sunday and it would be a great time to go out and cheer the team on. Attendance is up from last year, and with the cooperation of Mother Nature, there is no reason why the team can’t break the Municipal Stadium attendance record once again.

And don’t forget that tickets are on sale for the Prospect League Home Run Derby on July 17 at Municipal Stadium. Local celebrities (including the Sports Journal’s own national award-winning Photo Editor William Gibson) will hit the long ball (okay, softballs) at 5:30 p.m. and the league leaders will battle it out at 6:30 p.m. (with real baseballs). After the Derby will be a  fireworks show that Jackrabbits officials say will be the best the stadium has ever produced – they will be shot from the Kautz Field tennis courts instead of the Memorial Gym south parking lot. It should be a fun night of dingers and fireworks.

Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.

Dean Hockney is the publisher of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana, Hit Country WWKI contributor and the public address voice for IU Kokomo and the Kokomo Jackrabbits. You can follow him on Twitter (@Sports_Journal) for the latest in local sports news and in-game reports.

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