Baseball: Cougars scoop up win over Byron
ZUMBROTA - After a solid outing against Farmington on Friday, Zumbrota-Mazeppa junior Michael Wicks was thrust back on the mound on Monday against Byron.
"He looked good and we won 3-2 (against Farmington)," said Cougars head coach Chuck Ohm. "We wanted to give him another start and see if he could go back-to-back. ... I'll tell you what: he might be my No. 2 starter right now."
Going all seven innings just three days after his last start, Wicks forced the Bears into ground outs and pop ups, letting his defense do the work in a 7-4 Hiawatha Valley League victory.
"It feels good," Wicks said after the victory. He finished with three strikeouts and allowed seven hits and three walks. "I'm just glad I have a defense behind me."
The Cougars' defense made Byron work for its offense, committing zero errors in the victory. It was a relief for Ohm to see the fielders perform flawlessly after committing seven errors in Game 2 of a doubleheader against Triton Saturday.
"(Wicks) isn't a strikeout pitcher; he's more of a get-the-ball-in-play kind of pitcher," said Z-M first baseman Kevin Niebuhr. "If our defense can do what it can, then we're a pretty tough team."
The Bears took a 1-0 lead in the first inning after a double by Christian Baker, but the Cougars responded with three runs on four hits to take the lead. Cody Kruger, Jacob Ugland and Cody Heitman each drove in a run apiece, with Heitman getting on with a double.
Nate Levy helped Byron tie the game with a two-run home run over the left-field fence, but Niebuhr put Z-M back in the lead in the bottom half with a two-out RBI single.
Then over the third, fourth and fifth innings, Wicks limited the Bears to just one hit and one walk, seeing just 10 batters during that stretch.
"I just had to keep the ball down," Wicks said. "The defense was looking really good. We were making a lot of errors at the beginning of the season, but now we're looking good."
And in the bottom of the fourth, the Cougars tacked on two runs when the left-handed Niebuhr belted the ball to the right-field fence, scoring Jordan Thompson and Austin Walstad for the 6-3 edge.
"I was hoping it'd go over," Niebuhr admitted. The Z-M senior finished 2-for-3 with three RBI and a run scored. "The first at-bat, I was getting a little nervous. (Byron pitcher Michael Sigrist) was throwing pretty good, but I got lucky and poked one out there. The second one, it was a good pitch and I rolled with it."
Ugland came around to score for the Cougars in the fifth to make it 7-3, reaching home on a throwing error.
"(The offense) was contagious," Ohm said. "It just builds confidence."
Byron had the game-tying run up to bat with two outs in the top of the seventh, but Wicks forced Sigrist into a grounder to clinch the complete-game victory.
Walstad was 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored, and Thompson reached home twice for Z-M (4-10).
"That's a big win for us," Ohm said. "Byron's probably sitting at a four or five in our sub-section. It's a big confidence booster for our guys."
The Cougars travel to Goodhue for an HVL Blue doubleheader Tuesday.