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Dunbar's baseball team probably wishes Kyle DeLong had listened to one of his Little League coaches Friday night.
Ranked 20th in the state coaches' poll, the Bulldogs were a study in futility, getting just three hits off DeLong, Anderson County's unassuming senior left-hander. DeLong used his assortment of an upper-70s fastball and a variety of off-speed pitches to frustrate the perennial Lexington power and pick up the complete game win.
Not bad for a guy that wasn't good enough.
At least that's what DeLong heard when he started pursuing his dream.
“I just wanted to pitch,” DeLong rememembers. “The pitcher is always in the game.”
But someone who declared that DeLong would be better suited at the other lefty spots, first base or in the outfield.
“I was told I wasn't good enough,” DeLong said last week.
You could have fooled Dunbar. Or nearly every other team that DeLong has beaten during his high school career.
The kid that was “not good” enough is now in the discussion when talking about the best hurlers in the Eighth Region.
“I was kind of shocked,” DeLong says with a big smile. “I just wanted a chance.”
His father, Steve DeLong remembers that first year. “Little League was tough. ... Kyle was quite disappointed after the first year,” he says. “As Little Leaguers, they all want to pitch. But with Kyle being left-handed nobody knew how to teach him. He didn't have any opportunity to pitch his first year.”
There are no grudges. It's just not in Kyle DeLong's makeup. In fact, he says he gets along well with the unnamed person that did not let him climb the 10-inch hill. “It was for the good,” he says. “It made me realize I was going to have to work harder.”
His father says Kyle did get a few chances to pitch the following year, then after working extensively with local baseball expert John Halvachs, he got a chance for Anderson County Middle School.
“I think it was a no-decision,” he says of that first start.
The first batter?
“I think I walked him,”
Things sure have changed. Friday, in that gem against Dunbar, DeLong did not issue a base on balls.
It was a typical performance for DeLong, who has won five of his last six starts, carries a sub-3.00 ERA and is averaging better than a strikeout per inning.
“His biggest strength is that he has become a pitcher and not just a thrower.,” says Anderson pitching coach Chris Copenhaver. “That is probably the most important thing for them to learn in high school especially if they are going to pitch on the next level, which he is (at Centre College). Eventually, just being a thrower isn’t going to be a good enough.”
The fateful words pop up again.
Ironically, it might have been a game in which Anderson was on the wrong end of the score that showed DeLong, and those around the Anderson program, that he really was “good enough.”
It was the spring of 2008. Anderson, the newly-crowned Eighth Region champion, had the task of trying to stop eventual state champion Pleasure Ridge Park, ranked the nation's fourth-best high school team by USA today, in the semi-state series in effect at the time.
Knowing that the Bearcats would probably be going against the state's best pitcher, Zach Cox, Anderson coach L.W. Barnes opted to save his top hurler and go with DeLong, then a sophomore who had not pitched since the district tournament.. “We were looking at it as a 3-game series,” Barnes said at the time.
DeLong did his part, giving up three earned runs in five innings, but Cox no-hit the Bearcats in a 5-0 decision. PRP won the next one, 15-0.
“The PRP game was tough to take,” Steve DeLong remembers. “We were so nervous when we found out he was to start the first game. Kyle seemed to have a few doubts that he was up for the challenge. He knew the reputation of PRP's starting pitcher and their offense but he handled the pressure well.”
A year ago, Kyle got the call to open the Eighth Region tournament, winning 5-2 against a dangerous North Oldham team, then pitched in relief in the second semi-state series game against Louisville Trinity.
Through it all, he's stayed the same, being one of the team's best practical jokers but unleashing a burning fire when he crosses the white lines to play.
Never was it more apparent than in a game against Tates Creek earlier this year. One of the state's top teams, Tates Creek mercy-ruled the Bearcats, 17-6, with DeLong on the mound. However, the defense behind him committed seven errors.
He was visibly perturbed.
“I just felt like some (of the team) was not giving their best and I was,” DeLong admits.
Anderson claims to have taken care of that problem but that night underscored just who DeLong has become.
“Another area where he has shown a lot of improvement is the increase in mental toughness,” Copenhaver says. “Take the Tates Creek game for example. In the past, he would never have made it through the second inning with all those errors being made after good pitches.
“This year, he hung in there, kept throwing strikes, and pitched a good ballgame. He never folded. Again, that goes back to him becoming a pitcher as he understands that there are days like that but you just have to keep throwing strikes.”
Kyle said as much when he spoke during Youth Sunday at First Christian Church recently. During his sermon, he related how he loved the man he called his “second father,” Edwin Scott, who passed away last November.
“Edwin also knew how to adapt to anything that was thrown to him like when he was blessed with his grandson, Brayden,” Kyle said in a manuscript of the sermon. “Even when he was diagnosed with cancer, you could never tell he was tired. Whenever I would come visit him at home he would always get out of the chair, come give me a hug and tell me how glad he was to see me. You would have never guessed that he was sick.
“With all the things I’ve learned from Edwin, now it’s my time to show what I have learned from this great man and put my own twist on things.
“One of the biggest things I have been working on this past year to being able to leave my frustration at school or on the baseball diamond. You can usually tell when I have had a rough day at school or not so good baseball game. But a not so good day at the fields is nothing compared to what Edwin had to go through. I just can’t sweat the small stuff.”
On the baseball diamond, the post-season is not “small stuff.” Chances are that Kyle won't be on the mound when the Bearcats take on Spencer County in the district opener on Monday night, but if they advance, Shelby County will get its first look at him in the final.
He'll get the call in Anderson's biggest games from here on out.
That's because Kyle DeLong has become good enough.
E-mail John Herndon at firstname.lastname@example.org.