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By JOEL COLEMAN
As the Ackerman High baseball team began their preparations for a first-round playoff series against Bruce, Indians head coach Brad Mitchell planned to put a primary focus on his squad's defensive readiness.
With the first game of the showdown scheduled for 6:30 p.m. tonight however, Mother Nature hasn't provided Mitchell or the Indians with ideal conditions to improve their glovework.
"That was intended to be our focus but being inside practicing for the last two or three days, we really haven't been able to do much but hit," said Mitchell. "Still, we're going to have to make sure we do the little things right on defense. We'll have to be able to field the bunt because (Bruce) will bunt, move runners over and things so we've got to be ready."
Adding to the pressure on the Ackerman defense is the fact that Bruce, the runner-up to Hamilton in Class 2A, Region 2, enters tonight's game as what Mitchell describes as a "very good" contact team. Mitchell found out as much just days ago as he scouted the Trojans.
"They put the ball in play and put pressure on you," said Mitchell. "We went and watched them the other night and they didn't strike out but three times all game. They're going to be scrappy and they're going to hit."
While Mitchell acknowledges the talent of the Bruce team, the Ackerman leader also has a skilled stable at his disposal as well.
The question mark is whether or not the Indians, who finished third in Class 2A, Region 3 behind division champion Eupora and runner-up Hollandale-Simmons, can receive quality production from a youthful pitching staff.
Just two years removed from winning the Class 2A state title, Mitchell says tonight's mound duties will fall on the shoulders of one of his youngsters, along with the hopes that Ackerman can again start building its path towards a championship.
"We'll be going with a young, untested sophomore that really hasn't pitched in a big-game situation," said Mitchell. "Most of my pitchers are sophomores so we're going to get them some playoff experience hopefully and maybe it'll pay off in the long run. But can they go out and win? Yeah, they can go out and win, but they're going to have to play well."
Following tonight's opening game, Ackerman will travel to Bruce for the second game of the best-of-three set to be played at 2 p.m. on Saturday. If needed, the third game of the series will also be played Saturday in Bruce.