Baseball: Red Wing rebounds, sweeps New Prague
Trying to snap a four-game slump, Red Wing had to rely on a pair of first-time starters on the mound.
And what junior Cody Leitner and senior Marcus Leach lacked in starting experience, they more than made up for in results on Tuesday as the pair helped the Wingers to a Missota Conference sweep of New Prague at the Red Wing Athletic Field.
Red Wing (5-7, 5-6 Missota) opened the set with a 6-3 victory in Game 1, followed by a 12-5 win in the night cap.
"To have two guys getting their first varsity start and getting six-plus innings from both, you couldn't ask for anything better," said Red Wing co-head coach Paul Hartmann. "To come back and have this kind of performance after struggling last week was huge for our kids, and it really started on the mound."
After making a few appearances as a relief pitcher, Leitner admitted that he was anxious to take the start in Game 1. Putting the Wingers' junior on edge even more was when his throwing hand started aching.
"The first two or three innings, my hand was a little sore on the side," Leitner said. "It was hurting when I was gripping (the ball) and I was losing control when I was throwing it."
You wouldn't know watching Leitner on the mound. The lanky lefty battled through his ailing hand, keeping New Prague without a hit through five innings. He struck out three while allowing just two walks.
The way he was throwing, it became pretty easy for the pain to subside.
"I iced it in the third inning and it felt good the rest of the game," Leitner said. "It went pretty well; we played as a team and it showed."
It also helped playing with an early three-run lead.
After the Trojans (0-9, 0-8 Missota) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, the Wingers responded with a pair of runs in the bottom frame. Ty Buck tied the game up on an RBI triple, and came home one batter later when Preston Blaney belted an RBI single.
Red Wing's offensive onslaught continued in the second thanks to a one-run single by Thate Peterson and a sacrifice fly by Zach Lang that scored Andy Kalb and Trey Eckstrom, respectively.
Just days after stranding 15 runners on base in losses to Northfield and Hastings, the Wingers' bats finally came around in Tuesday's doubleheader with 19 hits in the twin bill.
"We had a lot of two-strike counts and we fouled off a lot of pitches," Hartmann said. "Even with two outs, we got guys on and pushed the order. Any time you can do that, I think it sets the tempo for the rest of the game."
And Leitner's nearly-unhittable stuff kept adding to the Wingers' budding confidence.
"He battled for us," Hartmann said of Leitner. "He had some tightness and something up with his hand, and he battled six strong for us. He's proven he belongs and he's putting us in a position to win."
New Prague cut the gap to one with a pair of runs in the sixth inning as the Trojans capitalized on two Red Wing errors. Fielding was the only negative in the opener as the Wingers finished with four errors.
But the bats made up for it in the bottom of the sixth as Lang brought home Kalb and Eckstrom with a two-run single to right field.
Buck was 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored. Preston Blaney was 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI, and he went 1 1/3 innings on the hill, picking up the save.
Even when the offense didn't get a hit in the opening frame, Red Wing still managed to strike first in Game 2. Lang reached base on an error, working his way around the bases before reaching home on a Michael Bigelbach grounder.
The Wingers kept the Trojans off the board through the first four innings, thanks in large part to Leach. Needing the senior to be a bulldog on the mound, Leach held New Prague to three hits over the first four innings on the way to a complete-game victory.
"Leach went out and battled and set the tone right away," Hartmann said. "He was down in the zone, which earlier in the season when he was coming in relief he was leaving the ball up. ... He gave us a big lift. We needed someone to get deep in a game."
Meanwhile in the top of the fourth, Bigelbach gave Red Wing another lift, leading off the inning with a double. He came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Blaney. An inning later, Bigelbach belted another double.
"I was in a little bit of a slump, and I just wanted to get on base and help the team any way I can get to get the 'W,'" said Bigelbach, who went 2-for-3 and scored four runs in Game 2.
Up 2-0 through four, Red Wing tacked on four runs in the fifth, with Michael Friedrich nailing a two-run double, followed two batters later by a two-run single up the middle to make it 6-0. The Wingers would add three runs apiece in the sixth and seventh innings to put the nightcap firmly in their favor.
Buck was 3-for-4 with five RBI and a run scored, and Lang had a hit and two runs from the leadoff spot. Ricky Turcotte came home three times in the victory.
"It's a great start to the week," Bigelbach said. "It's good to get two wins right off the bat and get going for the rest of the week."
With just four games left in the regular season, the Wingers head to Chaska Thursday for a doubleheader.