“Every time he takes the mound, we’re pretty focused,” said Lakers’ coach Brian Sabo, whose team is now 15-5-1 after its sixth consecutive win. “Good, bad or otherwise, the team expects to win when Nick pitches.”
Keller, who was just 1-4 as a relief pitcher for the Lakers a year ago, has been a very pleasant surprise for Sabo. Keller developed an off-speed pitch to compliment his 80-mph fastball over the offseason, and has kept batters off-balance with his deadly arsenal of pitches. He’s now recorded four shutouts and has allowed just has allowed just six runs on the season.
On Tuesday, Keller threw a complete-game four-hitter, striking out nine and allowing just one walk.
Keller insists it’s his team’s fantastic defense as much as his dazzling pitching that has helped the Lakers win each of his starts.
“I just try to throw strikes. That’s basically the key for any high school pitcher is to throw strikes. ... When you have a great defense behind you, you can just go out and throw strikes.
“I knew that if I threw strikes, we had a good chance of beating these guys. My change-up was better today, and my fast ball kept them off balance.”
The Lakers broke open a close game with four runs in the third inning. Adam Clauss started the rally with a double, then he scored on Ryan Walling’s base hit.
Walling scored on Michael Dillingham’s base hit, then JP Batts followed with an RBI double to put the Lakers in control.
Clauss added an RBI double in the sixth for Spring Lake. Dillingham finished with three hits, a run and a steal, while Batts was 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI.
The Lakers will host Whitehall on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in the district semifinal round. The Vikings beat the Lakers earlier this year, 8-5, but Keller did not pitch in that contest.
“Whitehall is our first game, and they’re probably the best team in our district, so I’ll probably throw against them,” Keller said. “They hit real well and have a really good pitcher. I’ll just try to throw strikes and won’t worry about it.”