The Middle Border Conference has a number of teams very capable of contending for the 2019 baseball title. Two of them met Thursday at St. Croix Central when the Panthers hosted New Richmond.
The game was tied 3-3 after six innings. New Richmond scored three runs in the top of the seventh inning. Central wasn’t done. The Panthers brought home one run and had the winning run at the plate, but New Richmond pitcher Ryan Kling struck out the final two batters of the game to preserve a 6-4 Tiger victory.
New Richmond is the only unbeaten team in the MBC. Central now stands at 1-2. The Tigers will be back in action on Friday, hosting Chippewa Falls in a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m.
Thursday’s game featured an excellent pitching battle between Kling and Central’s Trevor Miller. Kling is an established ace and Central is hoping Miller can reach that level.
“You could make the case that was the best Trevor ever pitched,” Central coach Tom Sauve said after the game.
The game boiled down to the seventh inning. New Richmond’s rally started with a one-out single from Talon Seckora, who stole second base. With two outs, Hayden Bradbury nubbed a single down the third base line. Seckora was running the whole way, and as the throw went to first base, Seckora sprinted home with the go-ahead run.
Central then elected to intentionally walk hot-hitting Jack Bau, who reached base in all four of his plate appearances, including a two-run homer in the fourth inning. Tiger junior Cooper Eckardt shredded Central’s plan, lining the first pitch he saw up the middle for an RBI single. Reece Lucas singled home Bau to complete the rally.
Both coaches said the hit by Eckardt was pivotal after Central purposely avoided Bau. Tiger coach Travis Helland said Eckardt knows teams are going to be dodging Bau, putting Eckardt in clutch situations.
“Cooper is a clutch hitter who’s always ready for those situations,” Helland said.
“We made him earn it and kudos to him,” Sauve said.
Eckardt said he completely understood why Central chose to pitch to him instead of Bau.
“Jack’s been killing the ball. He’s making my job more important to get the runs in,” Eckardt said. “I just want to do as well as I can for my teammates.”
Central battled back in the seventh inning. Spencer Trainor led off with a single up the middle and Keagan Berg reached on an error. Derek Myer delivered a one-out single to chase home Trainor. Kling then snuffed out the Panthers’ hope with the final two strikeouts.
Central had the early lead in the game, scoring three times in the second inning. Zac Holme started that inning with a double to the base of the rightfield fence. He scored on a single from his brother, Luke. The second Panther run scored on a double steal and Trainor singled home the third tally.
The Tigers got their first two runs on a double from Bradbury and Bau’s homer in the fourth inning. The Tigers got the tying run in the sixth inning. Bau led off the inning with a walk and Eckardt was hit by a pitch. Bau scored the tying run on a groundout by Kling.
Helland said he viewed the Tigers’ smart at-bats as the key to the game. The Tigers learned from their first views against Miller and it paid off late in the game.
One reason Kling was able to pitch the complete game was the team’s defense. The Tigers turned three double plays behind him, including a slick 6-4-3 twin killing in the fifth inning.
“Ryan’s a great pitcher. He was able to settle in against a good offensive team,” Helland said.
Defense was also large for Central. The Panthers did not commit an error. Wyatt Sundby made two impressive catches in rightfield, including a diving catch in foul territory in the seventh inning. Though it was a loss, Central came away with added confidence after going toe-to-toe with the conference leader.
“We’re good enough to play with them and beat them and we can,” Sauve said.
Central’s next action comes next Tuesday when the Panthers play at Amery.
This is a week the Spartans would like to forget. The Spartans started the season with a 5-1 record. But they are 0-2 this week, including a 12-2 loss at Prescott on Thursday. That followed an 11-0 loss on Tuesday against Baldwin-Woodville.
Thursday’s game started on a dour tone for the Spartans, with Andre Beasley taking ill before the game. That may have led to a distracted showing by the Spartans. Somerset coach Zac Eichten said it wasn’t mental errors that were damaging, saying it was totally on physical errors. The Spartan pitchers gave up eight walks and the Spartan defense matched that with eight errors. Aaron Shartin-Folkert was Somerset’s starting pitcher with Ryan Kelly working in relief.
The Spartans were able to score their two runs with their only two hits of the night, taking advantage of two walks issued by Prescott pitching.
Eichten wasn’t sure what caused the switch this week, after the Spartans averaged nine runs a game in their first six games of the season. He said he was encouraged that the players are taking ownership of the situation.
“They’re frustrated, they want to take control and figure this out. We had leaders step up and try to take control,” Eichten said.
This is an especially crucial juncture in the Spartans’ season with four games on the schedule next week. That starts with a home game Monday against Luck-Frederic and a game at New Richmond on Tuesday.