MAYER – Getting off to a good start in any game is important. When it’s a section game against a rival, it’s even more important.
For the Mayer Lutheran baseball team, they couldn’t have gotten off to a better start as they took advantage of some early struggles in a 6-2 win over rival Lester Prairie Tuesday night.
“They kind of did what we’ve done a couple of times this year,” Mayer Lutheran coach Dave Lane said. “We give up a bunch of runs early and that’s tough to come back from. I thought we would hit the ball better. It’s one thing we’ve been doing a bit better. We just didn’t seem to hit with much authority after that first inning.”
The Crusaders came firing out of the gate. A leadoff single from Connor Olson had them in business early. After the single, back-to-back walks loaded the bases and Mayer Lutheran took advantage. Another walk to Ty Hoese gave the Crusaders a 1-0 lead, but they didn’t stop there. With just one more hit in the inning, Mayer Lutheran scored four more runs in the bottom of the first, two of which came on a single by Levi Hahn.
“That’s a great start,” Ty Hoese said. “It helps to get up five and have a little cushion. With that, you’re not so nervous playing defense.”
Lester Prairie got out of the inning but not before they found themselves in a big hole early.
“We gave up five in the first inning,” Lester Prairie coach Ben Machemehl said. “It was a lot of walks and that’s what kills us. That’s the importance of throwing strikes right there. After that, we bared down and kept it close. We’re definitely happy with the performance after the first inning. Clean some mistakes up and we’re right there with this team.”
Despite the ugly first inning, the Bulldogs were right in the game as senior Riley Heimerl gave them a boost. After taking over on the mound in the second, Heimerl battled on the mound. After a leadoff single scored on a sacrifice fly, Heimerl then retired 11 of the next 12 batters he faced to keep Lester Prairie in the game.
“That’s a must,” Machemehl said about Heimerl stepping up. “Especially in a situation like that. We struggle the first inning throwing strikes and Riley comes in and does what he needs to do. He throws strikes and is a leader. That’s good to see that leadership come out of him.”
The Bulldogs close the gap to 6-2 as Jack Behning scored on a wild pitch in the top of the fourth, but that’s all they would muster the rest of the way as they struggled to get the clutch hit they needed.
“We’ve done that a couple of games now,” Machemehl said. “It’s a different game if we get a hit. That makes a big difference. We just got to put the bat on the ball. We got to work on that in practice and get it in play.”
After Behning scored on the wild pitch, Lester Praire had the bases loaded with nobody out. They failed to score a run as Mayer Lutheran’s Caden Robbins picked up two huge strikeouts and a fly ball to get out of the inning with just one run allowed.
“He’s a great pitcher,” Hoese said about Robbins. “He throws hard and has good stuff. When he finds the zone, he’s a great pitcher. He’s just got to find the zone consistently and he’ll be great.”
Although Robbins didn’t have his best stuff, he made the big pitches when needed. Lester Prairie once again had the bases loaded in the top of the fifth but failed to score as Robbins worked out of trouble once again.
“He really did,” Lane said about Robbins throwing some big pitches. “He doesn’t really get hit hard much, but if he gets himself in trouble, that’s what happens. He was able to work his way out of it today which was good to see. He’s got good stuff.”
The win gives the Crusaders their second win in three games. After a tough start to the season against ranked teams, Lane is happy with the way his team is progressing as of late.
“We’re looking at the end of the year,” Lane said. “We want to be at our best by then. I see the ingredients there. It’s just not always coming to the top. We see teams in our conference that will be better than any team we would see in a state tournament. Sibley East is ranked third. Glencoe–Silver Lake is ranked fourth and Belle Plaine is ranked fifth. That’s how we started our season. We would have liked to do a little better, but five of our six losses are against ranked teams.”
“We play a pretty tough schedule,” Hoese added. “That hurts, but growing pains at the beginning of the year make us work through them and we’re getting a lot better. Guys are coming along and we’ll keep improving and getting better.”
For Lester Prairie, they fall to 4-2 on the season with the loss. With a matchup with Mayer Lutheran coming again later this month, Machemehl is hoping his guys come ready for a little revenge.
“They’ve got to be pumped,” Machemehl said. “That’ll be a big one. The nonconference games we have are big. We’re right up there at the top of our section. That’s pretty cool, but we got to get a little payback next time. That would be nice.”
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Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports