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CROWN POINT BASEBALL BATTERY DEFIES UNEXPECTED ODDS

Friday, June 10, 2011 • POSTED BY:  Hillary Smith - Times Correspondent

CROWN POINT | From the outside looking in at a crystal ball of Crown Point's baseball season, there might be some surprise to see who wound up as the starting battery for today's Class 4A semistate game.

Inside the bubble, there's no shock at all that Nick Nauracy has emerged as the ace of the staff and that he's throwing to fellow senior Alex Doppler.

When moves had to be made after players were lost to grades early in the season, all-state catcher Jose Andrade turned out to be a good first baseman, giving Doppler the permanent starting gig behind the dish. When the same thing happened on the mound, Nauracy made the best of every opportunity he had.

Nauracy takes his 1.06 ERA and Doppler his 55.6 caught-stealing percentage into today's 2:30 p.m. game against FW Carroll, which meets the Bulldogs (21-11) at Coveleski Stadium in South Bend.

"We didn't know what was going to happen, but we saw something in those guys that, in the back of our minds, it wasn't a shock to the coaching staff," coach Steve Strayer said. "We knew what those guys were doing in practice and how effective they were in practice. I think they found their game.

"I think Nick had a focus going into the season that he wasn't going to let anything stop him, and I think Alex had that same determination. They both struggled and had some issues at the beginning of the season and they focused on correcting it, and I think they weren't going to let their senior season be just an average season."

Doppler got the call to become the permanent catcher because of his arm speed from behind the plate. He has thrown out 10 runners trying to steal and allowed just eight stolen bases this season.

"It takes so much of the stress off of me to have him at the plate," Nauracy said. "I don't have to worry about a guy stealing on me. He's got a cannon, so I know he's going to take care of it."

In the postseason, Doppler caught an Elkhart Central runner attempting to steal in the regional title game and has allowed just one stolen base. Penn took that in the regional semifinal.

"The only thing I think I had over (Andrade) was my arm," Doppler said. "I used to hang out with guys that are not that great at baseball and I'd have them all line up in a line. I'd lob it to the guy at the end of the line and try to get it as far as I could."

As for Nauracy, Doppler said his teammate has become a more focused pitcher, which makes catching the righty that much easier.

"He goes out there and pitches like he's better than anyone else, and that's the mentality you have to have on the mound," Doppler said. "As soon as you have that thought that maybe this guy's going to get a hit off of me, then you're in trouble and the batter has a chance to get a hit off of you.

"He just goes out there and throws as hard as he can. He just goes out and hits his spots. Even if his arm isn't 100 percent that day, he hits his spots."

Strayer saw the change in his ace after Nauracy gave up five runs in an 8-2 loss to Lake Central on May 17. Nauracy hasn't dropped a game since then.

"I think Nick had a little thing (that) when things didn't go right, he let it get to him," Strayer said. "After (Lake Central), he decided he wasn't going to let it happen again, so any time something bad happened, he's been able to work through it. I think that's why he's progressed into the pitcher he has."

"I went from trying to overpower batters, throwing hard strikes, to starting to get outs," Nauracy said. "The strikeouts don't matter to me. They can ground out or fly out -- I just don't let them get hits off of me."

It may not look like the battery drawn up when the season began in March, but the picture it's making now -- holding postseason opponents to no more than two runs in any game -- has been a catalyst for the Bulldogs' success.

"When we were falling apart and in a slump and not hitting, I thought, 'Oh, God, what's going on?'" Nauracy said. "But we got our act together. It took extra practices and coming early and staying late, but we were working a lot harder and we were working together."