BY CHAD DARE
It was a night of firsts for a pair of Danville Dans.
Chad Klein’s first-ever walk-off home run gave Danville a 5-3 victory in the suspended game and winning pitcher Mitch Holtz also garnered the win in the nightcap as the Dans beat the Hannibal Cavemen 3-1.
“That was definitely my first one ever,’’ said Klein, who has hit just one collegiate home run in two years at Heartland Community College in Normal. “It’s a great feeling, there is nothing like it.’’
And even though, he’s only hit one long ball in the past two years, Klein knew he had the game-winner when he connected on the 1-2 pitch from Hannibal’s Zane Hemond.
“Well, the wind was blowing out and I knew I hit it well,’’ Klein said.
Ironically, Klein’s blast capped the Dans victory in a game that started on Saturday, June 1 at Danville Stadium.
“I wasn’t even in Danville on that day,’’ said Klein, who was eligible to play in the suspended game under Prospect League rules. “I was still playing with Heartland at the NJCAA Division II World Series on that date.’’
Klein, who replaced Justin Stawychny in the lineup from that game on June 1, actually went 2-for-2 for the Hawks on that date.
“I had a pair of infield singles,’’ he said. “I got to play one inning in right field, than I got one at-bat and the game is over. That’s pretty fun.’’
Klein openly admits that is his not normally a home run hitter.
“I know that I have the power to hit one out, but it will never be a regular occurrence for me,’’ he said.
And that’s just fine with Danville coach Jason Watson.
“He put a good swing on it, timed it up and came through for us,’’ Watson said. “Guys struggle when they think they are home run hitters.
“You need to have a good approach, and look to get your pitch to hit. When you square it up, that’s when home runs are hit.’’
Holtz, who threw one scoreless inning of relief on June 1 before a thunderstorm swept through Danville Stadium, also had a scoreless inning on Wednesday to get his second victory of the season.
“Coach (Watson) asked me on Tuesday, if I wanted to keep going since I was the pitcher in the game at the time of the suspension,’’ Holtz said. “When we talked about it, he said that depending on how much I threw, we would see about the second game.’’
With only 20 minutes between games, Watson sent Holtz back out to the mound in the regularly-scheduled nine-inning contest for his first collegiate start.
Holtz, a sophomore-to-be from the University of Pennsylvania, tossed five shutout innings, allowing just three hits, walking none and striking out six.
“It was my first start since my senior year in high school,’’ said Holtz, who is from Plainfield and went to Aurora Christian. “Initially, I thought being a normal reliever that I would be able to go like three innings. But, I caught a rhythm and I didn’t want to come out of the game.
“At the end, I could tell that I was starting to wear down. The bullpen came in and did a great job.’’
Jon Rashid, Miles Nordgren and Trey McNickle took care of the final four frames, allowing just a run in the ninth as Danville won its fourth straight, improving to 14-9 overall.
With the two victories, the Dans are tied for second in the Prospect League’s West Division with Terre Haute, two games behind Quincy.
“Two more wins at home are huge,’’ Watson said. “We are starting to come around from pitching to defense and we’re getting the hits as well.
“If you’re not in first, you want to stay as close as possible. We have to focus on the now rather than what could be in the future.’’
And how about using Holtz as a starting pitcher in the future?
“He threw it really well, but right now, I think we’ll keep him in the bullpen,’’ Watson said. “I was actually going to start someone else in the second game, but he only threw one inning and we had the short break in between games.’’
Holtz said that he wants to do what’s best for the team, but admitted he would accept the challenge of being a starter.
“It would be nice. I don’t get that opportunity at school,’’ he said. “At least, they know that if they need someone to make a spot start later in the season, I can be their man.’’
And maybe he could get a another opportunity to get two wins in one day.
“That was a cool experience,’’ he said. “That’s not going to happen very often.’’