One night earlier, Minocqua Post 89 manager Doug Etten commented about his teams’ propensity to allow a big inning following an 11-4 loss at Rhinelander. It happened again Tuesday night in Whittlesey.
The 89ers surrendered five runs in the first and could not dig out of the hole as they fell to Medford Post 147 in Great Northern Legion Conference play.
With runners on first and second, Medford caught a break when Ray Zirngilbe knocked the ball out of the glove of third baseman Keaton Brewer-Crownhart on a tag play. Medford would go on to score all of its runs after that, including three after the second out of the inning was recorded.
“It was kind of a microcosm of what has been our Achilles heel all season,” Etten said. “We had a couple of opportunities to make plays and get out of an inning without any damage at all — or limiting the damage to one or two runs — and we just had a couple of situations that caught us off guard.”
Medford made the most of its opportunity. With the bases loaded, Jon Laher was hit by Alex Fortier’s 1-1 offering to force in the game’s first run. Ethan Hahn followed with an RBI single and Blaine Seidl launched a sacrifice fly to right. The inning continued when Jobe Miller reached on a error to short, and Caleb Guden hit a single to center to make it 5-0.
“Before you know it, five runs later, we’re looking at a whole different team now because our heads are down a little bit and it takes us an inning to recoup. We really just weren’t able to fight back from that again,” Etten said.
Medford tacked on a couple of insurance runs later on. Cade Alexander reached on an error and scored on a two-out hit by Laher in the second. John McMurry doubled and scored on another Laher base knock in the fourth.
Despite finishing even in the hit column with Medford at eight apiece, the 89ers couldn’t get much going offensively. Consecutive hits by Max Toijala, Anthony Thoms and Tate Olson in the third produced Minocqua’s lone run.
The 89ers left nine men on base in the game, including runners in scoring position in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings.
“We put runners in scoring position very, very well taking advantage of miscues on their part — be it a ball in the dirt, passed ball, wild pitch,” Etten said. “We hit behind runners really well. Even when we did put the ball in play with less than two outs, we advanced runners. We just could never get that next hit.”
Following the rocky first inning, Minocqua got a strong pitching effort from Fortier, who allowed two earned runs on eight hits over six innings. He struck out two and did not walk any batters. Of the 87 pitches Fortier threw, 73 were strikes.
“Alex Fortier really bared down,” Etten said. “Alex threw a great game. Even in those early innings, Alex didn’t have a walk. What he did was something different than I’ve seen from Alex. Instead of getting upset and trying to overthrow, he did the exact opposite. He throttled back a little bit. He was throwing at about 60-70% and just concentrating on throwing strikes and keeping them down in the zone. From there on out, we played almost flawless baseball.”
Spike Alexander went 4 2/3 innings for Medford in the win. He allowed a run on seven hits with six strikeouts.
The top of the order did the majority of the damage for the 89ers. Toijala, Thoms and Olson each recorded two hits in the contest.
“We had baserunners, for the most part every inning. We took one of their better pitchers with Spike Alexander and I thought we hit him pretty well,” Etten said.
Still, the big inning is something which continues to plague the 89ers. Medford’s five-run explosion in the first marked the fifth time this summer a team has scored three or more runs in an inning against Minocqua.
“Lakeland’s never been one of those teams that’s been able to come back after being down early in ball games,” Etten said. “If that’s going to be our mentality, if that’s just how we are, well we have to learn how to not get down in the first couple of innings.”
Minocqua fell to 2-6 on the season with the loss. The 89ers took on Northwoods on Monday night in a game which concluded after deadline and will have another crack at Medford on Wednesday night when Post 147 heads north for the rematch at Lakeland Union High School. It’s the final game of the regular season for the 89ers, who will begin junior Legion regionals next week.
“We’ve got two more games before our 17U regional,” Etten said following Tuesday’s loss. “I told the guys, I said, ‘Hey, come Sunday night practice, we’ve got to turn the page and pretty much got to ramp up for two weeks of solid baseball. If we don’t, our season will be pretty short.’”
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at [email protected]