SECTION 4A BASEBALL: Bonk, Froman lead Crusaders past Panthers

MAYER – Errors have haunted the Mayer Lutheran baseball team all season long. It’s a big reason they won only one game throughout the regular season, but in the postseason, the Crusaders flipped the script.

Led by good pitching from Cody Bonk and solid defense behind him, the Crusaders turned in their best performance of the season as they kept their season alive with an 8-2 victory over PACT Charter in the first round of the Section 4A baseball tournament Tuesday evening.

“It was huge for us,” junior Zach Froman said. “We’ve struggled all year. It’s been rough. We’ve made a lot of errors. I’d be lying if I said we hadn’t, but we kind of picked it up together. We had a nice talk before the game to just focus on the mental side. That’s been a key for us this year, and we were able to show that out on the field when we went out there.”

The Crusaders committed just one error in the win as they made the simple plays behind Bonk to get the win.

It wasn’t easy for Bonk early on against the Panthers. In the top of the first, he found himself in trouble. PACT Charter had the bases loaded with just one out, and an RBI single from Cooper Kennedy gave the Panthers an early 1-0 lead.

Bonk would settle down following the single. A strikeout and fly out ended the inning, and Mayer Lutheran got out of an early jam allowing just the one run.

“I think that helped a lot,” Bonk said about getting out of the inning with just one run allowed. “We got down in the dumps right away. In the past this season, we’ve struggled getting down early, but coming back really helped our confidence.”

In the bottom of the second, Mayer Lutheran was able to tie the game, thanks to Eli Johnson. After Matt Roepke led off the inning with a single, Johnson brought him in to score on a double to right-center, tying the game at one.

In the bottom of the third, coach Dave Lane and the Crusaders rolled the dice and gambled a bit. Froman led off the inning with a double, and the Crusaders had the go-ahead run in scoring position to open the inning.

Both Sam Dennis and Brendan Feltmann were retired, leaving Froman at second with two outs. That’s when Lane and the Crusaders rolled the dice, as Froman stole third and was called safe on a close play.

The gamble paid off as one pitch later, Froman came in to score on a wild pitch, giving the Crusaders a 2-1 lead.

“We’ve left a lot of guys on base this year,” Froman said. “We’ll get runners in scoring position with no outs or one out and can’t capitalize on it. It’s big for us when we’re able to do that. It was nice to see that, coming into the beginning of playoffs.”

With a run in both the second and third innings, Mayer Lutheran started to build some confidence at the plate, and even used a little two-out magic in the bottom of the fourth. After the first two batters were retired to start the inning, Mayer Lutheran took advantage of three errors by the Panthers to open a big lead. Johnson and Greyson McKinney both scored on an error as Ty Hoese was held up at third after a hit to center, which put Mayer Lutheran up 4-1. The Crusaders didn’t stop there.

A two-out RBI single from Froman made it 5-1, and thanks to an error and passed ball, the Crusaders added on two more runs to take a commanding 7-1 lead after four innings.

“That was really important,” Bonk said about the big inning. “Once we start scoring runs, we get a lot more positive and we just play better as a team.”

It was a big win for the Crusaders as they advanced to the double elimination portion of the Section 4A tournament. It wasn’t easy as they had to work out of multiple jams, but they found a way to get it done as PACT Charter left 11 men on base, including leaving the bases loaded three times.

“We can’t afford to make mistakes against teams,” Froman said. “We’re a young team. We don’t have much experience out there. It’s important to get out of those jams without giving up runs. It’s huge for us.”

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