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Spark plug Pottinger: Outfielder’s prowess permeating throughout diamond

Dec 05, 2023

Indiana State Insider

As the Indiana State baseball team has stockpiled wins this season, several individual stalwarts have shined for the squad.

The No. 25/9-ranked Sycamores locked up their first Missouri Valley Conference regular-season crown since 2012 with a sweep of second-seeded Missouri State in Springfield, Mo., last weekend.

The Sycamores are the top seed for the MVC tourney and begin their postseason on Wednesday at Bob Warn Field against the winner of Illinois-Chicago and Belmont.

Sweeping opponents has become standard for the Sycamores this season. ISU won 14 games in a row in April, which was the longest streak in the nation, and went 16-1 that month.

Pitching has been a big reason for the success.

This season, senior starter Connor Fenlong went the distance twice with one shutout and junior Matt Jachec did it thrice, including a blanking of Illinois State.

The dominance from the rest of the pitching staff and junior catcher Grant Magill cemented the foundation in the middle.

Their steadiness has oozed to the rest of the defense, which is one of the best in the nation with a .984 fielding clip to finish the season.

Then, there are the guys furthest from the plate that have to be ready to dart at any moment and sometimes after waiting all game to spring to a play.

"It's fun to watch, for sure," junior Adam Pottinger said. "I think our coach, [associate] coach [Brian] Smiley prepares us very well. He works on the defensive side of things. He puts us in spots where we are ready for anything whether it be on the track or a diving play or something incredible."

"I think he prepares us very well," he added. "Our team takes a lot of pride in our defense, which is an awesome thing. I know I have all my life. I think that's why it's a great fit for me here."

On May 2, against Illinois, the Sycamores began the month with a win in extras against the Big Ten foe thanks to a critical play by senior Keegan Watson. He leaped and snagged the ball as it was en route to leaving the park.

"Our team is a very close team," Pottinger said. "Seeing my teammate go up and go for a ball is definitely a great thing. At the same time, I would say I’d be lying if I said I was shocked he made that play. He's been doing that all fall, all winter. A lot of our players have been making these plays and it's almost kind of become routine to us."

Left field has been a gold mine for highlight reels.

Watson's haul there made the No. 10 spot on ESPN's prominent SportsCenter Top 10 daily plays.

In April, Pottinger, a lefty, showed off his intuition by making grabs that were difficult and diversified. He made one sliding on his knees, laying out with a dive for another and sprinting to the left field foul wall and grabbing the ball as his lower body slammed into the structure.

The moment that earned him national recognition came on the base path.

Major League Baseball underwent rule changes with a pitch clock that shifted some rules in the college game.

"Early in the fall and the winter, our coach, [Mitch Hannahs] kind of brought us in and was kind of discussing the rules for us, and I always had it in the back of my head," he said. "Because sometimes I watch some baseball highlights on YouTube with some crazy things, seeing guys jump over catchers."

Pottinger said he asked Hannahs if throwing your body up and over an infielder is permissible.

"He gave me an answer like, ‘I think it's legal,’" Pottinger said.

This not-so-direct response came to the forefront of the veteran's mind in a split second May 13 against Murray State.

Pottinger slapped the ball down to first base. The Racers’ first baseman slowed down the ball before it caromed behind him to the pitcher on the line.

Pottinger darted past the first baseman before getting air.

"During that play, he was picking up the ball and he was kind of in my way and he was bent over," he said. "I didn't want to go through him and I couldn't go to the right or left of him. I couldn't go under him. So I guess the only way was above him so that was awesome to be able to make the adjustment and do what I had to do for our run to score and help our team win."

Pottinger managed to successively hurdle and make it safely to first — his helmet somehow stayed on his dome, too.

That night after a 5-0 win, as he was trying to catch some slumber, he was interrupted by a late-night ring from his older brother, Justin Pottinger, who broke news to a half-asleep Adam.

Adam had secured the top play of the night on ESPN's SportsCenter — a fixture on their TV in their household growing up.

"Me and my brother used to always watch SportsCenter Top 10 [Plays] before going to school and kind of thinking to myself, ‘I can do that. Why am I not on here?’" he said. "It was kind of surreal, but at the same time we still have a lot to accomplish."

Adam, who played in the outfield and slot receiver at Deerfield for three years with the likes of Charlie Jones, a fellow former Warrior receiver, was drafted in the fourth round by the Cincinnati Bengals in April after a final season in Purdue.

Adam attributed his fearlessness and adeptness for putting balls in his leather glove on the regular in tight spots like the warning track on the diamond to the hits he sustained on the gridiron.

"The first thing that comes to mind is [to] catch the baseball, whatever it takes," he said. "I think playing football kind of takes that fear away from me."

Some of it came from honing his craft with his old man.

"I think growing up I was just kind of the kid…I was kind of daring," he said. "I was the kid willing to do whatever it takes to put it on the line for our team, to help our team win. Growing up my dad, [Jim] used to always throw me a bunch of fly balls when I was two years old."

Indiana State Insider

Hunter Tickel is the Indiana State Sycamores Insider for the Tribune-Star after stops at biweekly and daily news organizations in Chicago, Iowa and southern Indiana. He's covered prep sports for nearly five years. He was born in Naperville, Ill. and raised in Cincinnati. Covering Division I college sports has been an aspiration for Tickel since being on the University of Cincinnati Bearcats beat in undergrad as the sports editor for the student independent news organization.

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