COLUMBIA – During Colby Fitch's at-bats, the focus is often on his hands.
The junior catcher spits into the palms of his purple and white batting gloves and rubs them together. He fastens and unfastens the velcro straps on his gloves and grips his bat, pine tar liberally applied around the handle.
He then gets set for the pitch, his feet in a slightly open stance, his hands positioned just below his ears. When Fitch sees a pitch to swing at, he whips them through, almost always generating hard contact.
Sometimes, his hands are too quick, and Fitch gets in front of the ball and hits a hard grounder to the right side of the infield instead of squaring up a line drive. He rarely hits pitches to the opposite field.
But in his first at bat of the Kewpies' 11-7 victory Monday over visiting Fatima, Fitch found himself in an unusual position against the Comets' Patrick Schnieders.
His hands weren't quite quick enough.
Fitch called the sidearming Schnieders the hardest-throwing pitcher the Kewpies have seen this year, and the first time the two faced off, Fitch fell behind in the count and had to react defensively, fouling back multiple pitches before eventually drawing a walk.
"I was trying to get my hands ready quick, and at least if a fastball was coming, if not, hit it square, at least foul it off and stay alive," he said.
Schnieders blitzed through the Kewpies' lineup his first time through, not allowing any hint of hard contact. Hickman's first hit was barely intentional – senior shortstop Ryan McMahan somehow barreled a ball on a half-swing and plunked it just beyond the infield dirt past second base.
But Schnieders' dominance would end when Fitch stepped in for the second time. He had been watching the Fatima pitcher and noticed a pattern of first-pitch fastballs.
Fitch was done being late on the heaters. He took the first pitch he saw and sent a massive, soaring home run out to right-center. He trotted out of the batters' box as the Comets' outfielders stared upwards, their only choice being to watch how far the ball would end up going. It cleared the hill beyond the outfield fence and bounced up by the track.
Although the Kewpies still trailed 6-2 at that point, Schnieders was rattled. Six walks and two hits later, he was pulled from the game before he could record a fifth inning out.
Hickman went on to score seven runs in that inning, capped off by senior first baseman Jonathan Jones' grand slam.
Fitch's blast apparently made the Comets a bit less enthusiastic to pitch to him, and he was walked three more times after that, twice intentionally.
The Kewpies (10-5) are scheduled to face Rock Bridge on Tuesday in the makeup of a game originally scheduled for April 11.