DECATUR -- Derrick Taylor couldn't wait to shed the catcher's gear.
The MacArthur sophomore, fresh off handling Eisenhower for a 16-3 victory Tuesday, backflipped down the first base line. Then Omari Morgret followed and Amir Brummett soon after.
The Generals, now 3-0, are feeling great.
"I do backflips here and there," junior Andrew Michel said with a smile. "I think we do that at the end of the game. We're doing pretty good."
It's a welcome start for MacArthur, which took a step in the right direction last year for a 7-win season. Now, the Generals return much of the roster that's still mainly sophomores and juniors.
One of those sophomores, Kelby Golladay, was dealing from the mound early on. Golladay found plenty of playing time in the field last year as his bat was key to the Generals' offense. But he'll be needed on the mound this year. Through five of his six innings, he held Eisenhower to one hit.
"Young grasshopper did great," Michel said. "He keeps pumping them. He'll take my spot pretty soon."
It's new territory for Golladay, who didn't pitch for MacArthur at all last year. But playing with the St. Louis Naturals during the offseason helped bridge that gap. He threw curveballs on the first pitch and worked in some sidearm in between fastballs.
Golladay struck out 11 and gave up two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.
"Butterflies were sort of there, but I kind of felt calm because I'm used to this from summer ball," he said.
It also helped he already had some short stints. Golladay picked up the one-out save against Taylorville before pitching a scoreless inning against St. Teresa earlier in the week.
"If not for the pitch count, Kelby finishes the game," MacArthur coach Eldon Bryan said.
"A win and two saves, that's not bad work for three games. I'm pretty happy with where he's at right now."
While Golladay pitched, Armon Brummett smashed at the plate.
He and his brother Amir start and are newcomers to the roster -- Armon did play baseball his freshman year -- and Bryan saw both come into their own. Armon had two doubles, including a shot in the third inning that echoed around Stephen Decatur.
"They kind of broke out and I've kind of talked to them about thier struggles at the plate, and that's because of muscle memory," Bryan said. "I keep telling them, it's going to come back at the plate and you're going to be OK."
But this MacArthur team starts with Michel. The junior ace went 2-for-2 with three walks from the plate, and when Bryan raves about the Generals' defense improving, it's Michel's play at shortstop that keeps the infield defense anchored.
"I think I'm seeing the ball better, hitting the ball a lot better than I was and I'm thinking a lot better," Michel said. "My head's there, I'm calm. I'm just throwing harder, too."
That all rolled up as MacArthur scored in five of the seven innings to keep the momentum going. And with the second game against Eisenhower today, the Generals see no reason to slow down.
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"Feeling good. I don't think we've done it in a while, 10 years or so," Michel said about three straight wins. "I think we're going to keep it going -- 4-0 tomorrow."
Keeping it fun
Sure, the Brummetts show flashes of potential on the field, but the team raved about their presence in the dugout.
"They loosen everything up," Golladay said.
That's works figuratively and literally.
"After every inning, they pinch our nerves on our back to loosen us up."
Bryan sees the hunger for victories come through as well.
"They are a great addition to the team, not only because of their athleticism but their drive to win," he said. "And their drive to win pushes the rest of these guys, too. That's really something we've missed the last two years."
Eisenhower's missing some names from last year's roster and it's created a short bench for the Panthers.
That, and it being the first game of the year, was apparent on Tuesday. The Panthers had 10 errors.
Jakob Davis was a bright spot. He crushed a ball to left field before sending another that way two innings later to collect two of Eisenhower's four hits.
Behind the plate
Taylor can do more than backflips. He threw out a runner at second and picked off a Panther at first.
"He's definitely improved from the first day in practice, but this is his first year on varsity," Golladay said. "Coming up as a sophomore, he's doing pretty good."
"I think we're young, that's the biggest part. We're young and we don't know any better. I think winning's definitely boosting our confidence to go through the year and do some damage in the playoffs." -- Michel