Baseball fans have been following a group of Kokomo High School athletes for years, and this season, the talented junior class of Kats finally is beginning to roar. 

Three of those are junior pitchers who are all NCAA Division I prospects. And while the young talent took time to adjust to the varsity level (26-28 in two seasons), they are gelling this year, as Kokomo is off to an 8-0 start.

“I think a lot of it has to do with maturity,” said Kokomo Head Coach Sean Swan. “They were kind of thrown to the wolves as freshmen and sophomores. They had to learn on the job. Most kids their age were playing junior varsity and learning the job, but we asked these guys to jump right in and wins games. They took their lumps, but I think the lessons they learned are starting to pay off now.”

Junior Kyle Wade (uncommitted) has been sensational this year on the hill. In four appearances, he is 3-0 with one save and a perfect ERA of 0.00. He has thrown two complete game shutouts and has given up just nine hits in 17 1/3 innings with two walks and 17 strikeouts. He also is batting .400 and scored the game-winning run against Logansport.

“What Kyle has done the last two weeks is pretty special,” said Swan.

Junior Bayden Root (verbal commitment to South Carolina) is 2-0 with 13 strikeouts, and classmate Jack Perkins (verbal commitment to Louisville) is 1-0 with a 2.62 ERA and 16 strikeouts in eight innings pitched. His fastball also was clocked at 96 miles per hour by scouts at Kokomo Municipal Stadium. And while Wade, Root, and Perkins have scouts following them, junior Nate Hemmerich is 1-0 after pitching five shutout innings with six strikeouts. Freshman Charez Butcher also is earning playing time. He tossed one inning and scouts clocked him at 93 mph.

“We are extremely deep,” said Swan. “We are very fortunate in regard to the number of quality arms we can put out there on the mound. That bodes well for us.”

Class 4A No. 9 Kokomo started the season with a pair of 13-3 wins over South Bend Riley and followed that with a sweep of Lafayette Jeff (4-0, 8-3) to start the North Central Conference campaign. An easy 14-0 win over Frankfort put the Kats at 5-0 heading to a conference road double-header at Harrison. 

And that is where it got a little crazy for Kokomo as they fought to stay perfect.

A missed bunt sign by a Wildkat freshman capped a crazy come-from-behind victory during the nightcap of the North Central Conference game. And ironically, the missed bunt sign came from a Kokomo hitter and helped seal the stunning victory.

Playing as the home team in game two of the NCC double-header, Kokomo found itself down 14-1 in the fifth inning. Kokomo cut the lead in half, but Harrison plated four more in the top of the sixth to take a 18-7 lead. The Kats then rebounded with 11 in the bottom of the frame to knot the score at 18. 

Perry McCullum pitched the seventh for Kokomo and kept the Raiders off the board. The Kats got two runners on in the bottom of the seventh and looked to bunt the winning run home. But Butcher missed Swan’s bunt sign and swung away. The result was a three-run, walk-off home run over the left-center field fence for a Kokomo victory.

McCullum picked up the win in relief and also starred at the plate. The senior went three for four with a double, three-run home run, three runs scored, and six RBI’s. Kokomo won the opener at Harrison 9-7. 

Kokomo followed that win with a 1-0 victory against Logansport at home. Wade picked up the win and senior Quamielle Belt had the game-winning hit that scored Wade.

“We have won in a variety of ways,” said Swan. “We got off to the quick start against Riley and played well against Jeff. I told the guys we would have some challenges, and Harrison Logansport were.”

While pitching is the focal point of the Kats success, Swan noted the improved hitting for Kokomo. Thus far, the Wildkats have improved its team batting average from .265 last year to .335 this season. Senior DaShaun Barbary is hitting .500 (7 for 14), senior Perry McCullum is at .455, junior Colt Munsey is .444, senior Brian Harding is at .429, and Belt is .417. Perkins has a team-high 12 RBIs and three home runs.

“I think it goes hand-in-hand with our pitching,” said Swan. “Hopefully it allows our pitchers not to feel like they have to be perfect every inning because of a lack of run support. They know when they get on the mound we are going to get them some runs, which hasn’t happened in the past.”

Kokomo is back in action on April 21 against Class 3A No. 7 Western (6-1) at 6 p.m. at Municipal Stadium. They also host Warsaw (3-2) in an 11 a.m. double-header on April 22.