Baseball: Offensive struggles strangle Wingers
Red Wing's pitching and defense kept the team in the hunt in a pair of games against Northfield and Hastings on Saturday.
But when the Wingers had runners in scoring position and needed an offensive boost, the clutch hits never showed up.
Leaving a total of 15 runners stranded on base in the two games, Red Wing was swept in its home twin bill, losing 6-4 in Game 1 to Northfield and 2-1 to Hastings in Game 2 at the Red Wing Athletic Field.
"Right now, of the three phases - pitching, defense and timely hitting - it's clear which one we need to work on if we want to make the next step," said Wingers co-head coach Paul Hartmann.
In the midst of a four-game losing streak, Red Wing is 3-7 overall and 3-6 in the Missota Conference.
"As a staff, there's no doubt in our mind that we can turn it around, albeit in a short window here coming towards the end of the season," Hartmann said. "If we continue to work, we can turn this thing around."
With the offense giving the team a 2-0 lead, and with Trey Eckstrom keeping Northfield to just one hit through five innings, the Wingers appeared to be cruising towards a Missota victory.
But with two outs in the top of the sixth, the Raiders' Thomas Wise, who broke up Eckstrom's no-hit bid in the fifth, brought in Northfield's first run with an RBI single. The next batter, Marcus Nelson, belted the ball into deep right field for a two-run double, giving the Raiders their first lead of the game.
"Our guys felt the momentum change right there," said Red Wing co-head coach Jim Bohmbach. "(Northfield) came back in and they got that big inning."
The Wingers appeared ready to tie the game when Matt Zorn and Michael Friedrich had back-to-back singles to lead off the bottom of the sixth. Zorn and Friedrich combined for six of Red Wing's 13 hits and both of the team's runs in Game 1.
"Zorn did a pretty good job getting on base so I could hit him around," said Friedrich, who went 3-for-3 with a double. "That's what we have to do: we have to put the bat and the ball together."
Bohmbach said of Zorn and Friedrich, "They're great, great hitters. Both those guys hit the ball and make great contact. They're both having great years so far."
But with the No. 5 and 6 hitters on base, the Wingers could not capitalize as they hit into three straight pop ups, ending the threat.
"We had the opportunity to put it away there and we didn't get the hit," Bohmbach said. "We had the guys up. They hit the ball, but they hit it right at 'em."
After neutralizing the threat, Northfield tacked on three more runs in the top of the seventh, racking up two hits, two walks and capitalizing on two wild pitches, a balk and a broken-up double play to make it 6-2.
Trying to cut the deficit, Red Wing's Zach Lang scored on a wild pitch, and Ty Buck was brought home on a single by Andy Kalb. The bases were loaded with Thate Peterson stepping up to the plate, but he hit into a ground out, allowing the Raiders to leave with a victory.
"We have the right idea going into the seventh inning. We just had to hit the ball and we did that for most of the seventh inning," Friedrich said, "but we just dropped our elbows and popped it up a couple times. That'll kill you."
Unlike Northfield in Game 1, Hastings' offense clicked right away in the night cap, jumping out to a 1-0 lead on an RBI single by Billy Biskupski.
But looking to put the early game's struggles behind them, Red Wing tallied a run of its own in the bottom half when Buck hit a sharp grounder that bounced off the third-base bag, bringing Lang home.
Buck's bat was red hot on Saturday as the sophomore shortstop/pitcher went 4-for-7, including 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and an RBI in Game 2.
"I think he's in a position where he's relaxed at the plate, but being aggressive at the same time," Hartmann said of Buck. "He's not trying to yank everything down the line. He knows it too, what he needs to work on as a hitter, and he's working on it and it's paying off."
With Buck on second with just one out, the Wingers were unable to put up another run. Stranding runners at second became a reoccurring theme in Game 2, as Red Wing had runners stuck at second in four of the seven innings.
"We just have to put some hits together and get the job done," Buck said. "We've lost almost every game by one or two runs this year. We just need to string some runs together and get the job done."
Tied 1-1 in the top of the fourth, the Raiders led off with a single by Jordan McTague, who eventually came around to score on an RBI bloop single by Matt Koch off Wingers' pitcher Michael Bigelbach. Koch was Hastings' top hitter on Saturday, going 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored.
In the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, Red Wing had a runner at second, but couldn't punch in the game-tying run. With two outs in the seventh, Thate Peterson hit a two-bagger, but couldn't move any further after Ricky Turcotte grounded out, ending the threat.
"Once again, we had some opportunities in the middle innings and we weren't able to come up with that big hit," Hartmann said.
The Wingers will try to snap their losing streak Tuesday against New Prague at the Ath.