Playing on their home field for an invitational Saturday, the Lakeland baseball team look to take advantage of its home field. The Thunderbirds couldn't manage to topple Chequamegon in the opener, falling 2-1, but came storming back over Ashland in the second game to win 9-2.
Chequamegon, 2-1 loss
Lakeland opened the four team invitational with a contest against Chequamegon.
It was a slow beginning for both squads, neither able to put much offense together.
The Thunderbirds had an opportunity in the bottom of the third when bases were loaded - Caleb Menzia at first, Tate Olson at second and Parker Biertzer at third - and two outs, but Biertzer was tagged as he made his way to home.
Chequamegon had chances of its own in the top of the fifth. The visiting team loaded the bases as well, off two singles and player hit by an Austin Wanty pitch. But the Thunderbird defense held firm by getting two quick outs - an infield fly by Biertzer and a pop out by catcher Menzia.
"Ray (Rentmeester) came off the field and I said we should just load the bases every time for him because it seems like he gets to that point then really buckles down and pitches a lot, focuses in more," head coach Mike Wilhelm said.
But the Thunderbirds claimed a small lead, scoring a single run in the bottom of the fifth.
Chequamegon, however, had other plans as it made its move in the sixth. Following an error by Biertzer and a double by Kalvin Tank, Chequamegon scored two runs off a single by Max Brunner. Hunter Minnema and Jason Chao crossed the plate.
After a quick three-and-out for the Thunderbirds, Chequamegon again had the bases loaded in the top of the seventh, but Lakeland held firm, not allowing a larger lead to be taken.
However, Lakeland's offense couldn't add any more runs, ultimately falling to Chequamegon 2-1.
"Our approach early at the plate was not good, just swinging at balls above our head and above our hands and we can't swing at that," Wilhelm said. "We're not going to do anything with it, we're going to pop it up every time if we do hit it."
Mental mistakes were what hindered the Thunderbirds throughout the game.
"It was just mental approach kind of stuff that we've worked on all year and we can't show our age," Wilhelm said. "This late in the season, we can't be making the youthful mistakes anymore that we're making."
Lakeland started a younger group of players, but Wilhelm said he had confidence in them.
"We started seven sophomores, but I've got all the confidence in the world in those seven sophomores that they're going to get it done," he said. "And I expect them to get it done. It's just mental types of mistakes today were the big issue."
As for what they needed to take into the second game, Wilhelm said it was simple.
"Learning. Applying what we talked about as a team and putting it together. We got guys on base, we just have to build on that," he said.
Tops Ashland 9-2
Following the opening game loss, the Thunderbirds took on Ashland in the consolation game, as the Oredockers fell to Merrill 6-5 in the second game.
For all the mistakes brought up in the opener, the Thunderbirds started strongly in the second contest, scoring four runs in the opening inning.
Kyosuke Kimura, Austin Wanty, Brandon Slavinsky and Jesse Armstrong all scored for the Thunderbirds in its largest inning of the day.
Ashland got on the board quickly after as Jordan Brennan singled for the Oredockers, scoring Bo Bratley.
But the Thunderbirds weren't intimidated in any way, scoring three more runs in the second - Connor Higgins, Kimura and Slavinsky all crossing the plate.
The Thunderbirds had more opportunities to score in the third following two consecutive errors by the Oredockers, but a fly out and ground out by Menzia and Wanty ended the inning.
Lakeland added a single run in the fourth with Armstrong crossing the plate, while Ashland added one in the fifth with Brennan.
The Thunderbirds capped off its win with a ninth run in the sixth as Armstrong scored on a wild pitch, while Lakeland held off Ashland from adding any runs in the top of the seventh, finishing the day with a 1-1 record.
"Realistically, in the grand scheme of things, this may affect our seeding, but we're looking at coming into Tuesday really buckling down and building for Tuesday and build some momentum," Wilhelm said.
The Thunderbirds travel to Northland Pines tonight.
Ben Gauger may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.