Baseball: Panthers hunker down, beat Bombers
CANNON FALLS — When Brady Braaten bears down, few pitchers in the Hiawatha Valley League are harder to bat around.
Days after throwing a no-hitter against St. Charles, the Pine Island right-hander took to the mound again Thursday to lead the 16th-ranked Panthers against ninth-ranked Cannon Falls.
The first inning was a tough one for Braaten as he gave up a run and a double to the Bombers. From there, Braaten hunkered down and held Cannon Falls to three more hits in a 6-2 victory.
“Coming off of last week, I knew I had to throw strikes and let my defense do the work like they did last week and just bear down when I get down on myself,” said Braaten, who finished with five strikeouts. “After that first, I came back, threw strikes and got it done.”
Said Pine Island head coach Josh Pederson, “He settled in, trusted his pitches and trusted the defense to make the plays behind him. He’s tough when he settles in.”
With Hayden Strain getting hit with a pitch, followed by a Liam Franken double, the Bombers got on the board in the bottom of the first inning when Carlton Lindow brought Strain home on a sacrifice fly.
The rest of the way, Cannon Falls got a pair of singles from Chase Reber and a base knock from Gage Hildebrandt, the team’s No. 8 and 9 hitters. The Bombers’ other run came in the fifth when Reber scored on a fielder’s choice.
“(After the first) I was trying to figure out where I was missing at,” Braaten said. “I lifted my leg up more down the stretch. And if I threw strikes, I had to get it right around the plate and they would swing and chase a little bit. Just throw strikes and get ‘em out.”
Meanwhile, it took the Panthers’ offense three innings before they could figure out Cannon Falls starter Jared Anderson. In his first start of the year, Anderson held Pine Island to one hit over the first three frames.
“He walked the first guy, but then he was able to find the zone and let us make plays,” Bombers head coach Bucky Lindow said of Anderson’s start. “He made a couple (plays) on his own. He earned the start. His relief stints have been really solid and he proved today he could do it.”
When Joe Bauer led the top of the fourth off with a single, it kick-started a two-run inning for Pine Island, with Bauer and Braaten scoring on a fielder’s choice and sacrifice fly, respectively.
In the fifth, another leadoff batter reached base as Derek Rucker drew a walk. Keegan Majerus also drew a walk, setting Jacob Navratil up for an RBI single. Bauer added another run with a sacrifice fly.
“(Anderson’s) a good pitcher, a great lefty. It took a time through the lineup to see what he was offering and getting the timing down,” Pederson said. “We didn’t see enough right away. Then later in the count, it’s a little easier to bat.”
Up 4-2 heading into the final inning, Pine Island got two more runs across after back-to-back two-out RBI hits from Bauer and Braaten.
“As soon as runners get on for us, our batters start drilling it,” Pederson said. “They want to keep moving around. It starts to be fun for them and they like to hit.”
Trying to mount a comeback, Reber got a leadoff single for the Bombers in the bottom of the seventh. But Braaten forced a pop-up and two straight strikeouts to end the game in Pine Island’s favor.
“That’s the kind of pitcher he is. He gets tough when he needs to,” Lindow said of Braaten. “I liked our at-bats today. We just didn’t quite string them together.”
Both teams resume play Monday, with Pine Island (10-3) heading to Byron while Cannon Falls (7-4) will host Goodhue.