When Austin Mitchell struck out for Decatur Central to begin Monday’s sectional championship game against Roncalli, it seemed inconsequential enough. But it told Rebels ace Michael McAvene everything he needed to know.
“Once I got the first out, I knew it was going to be a good day after that,” he said.
As he has done so many times this season, McAvene dominated the opposition. The righthander fanned 10 and allowed just one hit in five innings as Roncalli rolled to a 10-0 win and a sectional title, its first since 2012.
The likely MLB draft pick got more than enough run support in the bottom of the first inning, as the Rebels plated seven runs thanks to a trio of home runs. Nick Schnell hit a 3-run home run to open the scoring, Cody Smith followed with a solo shot and Tyler Lucas added a 3-run home run of his own later in the frame.
“It drains you a little bit,” Decatur Central coach Jason Combs said of the rough start. “Both teams were really excited coming in, and for us to go 1-2-3 in the top and for them to hit three home runs in the first inning, that’s hard to overcome.”
Roncalli added three more runs in the last of the fourth on run-scoring singles by Will Harris and Lucas.
The offensive onslaught was a pleasant sight for first-year Rebels coach Aaron Kroll, whose team outscored opponents 32-6 in sectionals after scoring just three runs combined in the final three games of the regular season.
“We’re hitting now,” he said. “Better approaches at the plate, getting good pitches to hit in hitter’s counts, being more aggressive. It’s really good to see. Hitting three home runs in the first inning makes things a little bit easier.”
Of course, even a scuffling offense can win games when the pitcher is on top of his game. McAvene’s fastball sits anywhere from 89-93 miles per hour, according to Prep Baseball Report, while his slider ranges from 82-85 miles per hour.
McAvene said his overpowering velocity gives him margin for error.
“I can go and throw fastballs over the plate,” he said. “I can miss spots and still feel confident that I’m going to get them out.”
Kroll said pitchers of McAvene’s caliber comes around “maybe once in a lifetime.”
“You don’t get an arm like that very often,” he said. “It’s pretty special. It’s really fun to watch.”
McAvene, a senior, had committed to Purdue but recently reopened his recruitment after it was announced that longtime Boilermakers coach Doug Schreiber would step down at the end of the season.
While he said he is uncertain exactly what his baseball future holds, he knows he is likely to hear his name called in the draft this summer.
“It’s something me and my family talk about every day,” he said. “It’s a big stepping stone in my life and it’s something I’ve had to contemplate over the past six months or so.”
Roncalli will face the winner of the Mt. Vernon sectional Saturday in the regional round. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.