Miller keeps Comets on course in own tourney
BEAMAN – As their defense goes, so do the Comets.
The source of their recent surge was front and center in the consolation game of the BCLUW Baseball Tournament Saturday.
Backed by a stingy defense, Comet sophomore Mitch Miller scattered two hits over seven innings as BCLUW claimed its fifth win in six games with a 1-0 victory over East Marshall.
Miller needed just 77 pitches to keep the NICL West’s third-highest scoring team in check as the Comets (9-12) bounced back from an 8-0 loss to Dike-New Hartford in the tournament opener.
“I just tried to throw it in the zone where they couldn’t hit it,” said Miller, who walked just two batters. “I found spots where they would swing and couldn’t hit the ball.”
And whenever the Mustangs (11-15) could put a bat on it, a Comet glove was ready and waiting.
“(Mitch) kept them off balance and our defense helped him out, because he’s not going to strike a lot of guys out,” BCLUW coach Matt Zoske said of the right-hander’s second varsity start. “When he moves the ball around, changes speeds and has all his pitches working, he showed what he can do.”
Miller also displayed what he can do with the bat – driving in Taylor Sams for the game’s lone run in the top of the third.
Sams roped a double down the first base line to open the frame before groundouts from Conner Ubben and Miller brought in the deciding score. Miller also singled twice and forced the Mustangs into 14 groundouts, while needing just one strikeout to sustain the shutout. Cole Silver and Tyler Lutes also singled for the Comets.
East Marshall won the first two meetings this year including a 7-1 decision in Beaman and a 21-10 rout in Gilman. Though like they have the last six games, the Comets’ defense rose to the occasion.
“We’ve needed our defense to pick up and it’s picked up,” Zoske said. “We’ve been making the routine plays, which is all I ask, and we’ve been making more than that. Today we had a couple double plays, a diving catch – our defense is making some really nice plays.”
The Mustangs, who dropped a 9-7 contest to Sumner-Fredericksburg in their first game, might have forced things at the plate with strong gusts rolling in from left field.
“Our guys seemed to feed things a bit to right field with the wind blowing in,” East Marshall coach Justin Frost said. “We put balls in play but we didn’t really hit anything too hard. When we did a hard ball it was right at them and they made the plays.”
The Mustangs’ best scoring opportunity came in the third when Nick Mommer drew a one-out walk and Caleb Benzing singled him to second. A groundout by Nate DeBondt moved the runners another bag, but Miller escaped the jam by forcing Sam Benzing to line out to short.
East Marshall, which also threatened in the fourth, stranded six runners while the Comets left five on. Caleb Benzing and Nick Long provided East Marshall’s two hits, while DeBondt allowed one run on six hits and no walks in the loss. DeBondt struck out a pair, but couldn’t find help from the plate as the Mustangs were blanked for just the third time all season and the first in nearly three weeks.
Losing four of its last five, East Marshall has just two regular season games left to turn things around but will receive a boost when senior leader Josh Wilson returns from a pulled hamstring he reinjured against Gladbrook-Reinbeck Tuesday.
“We have only two games left so we have to treat those like tournament games,” said Frost, who expects Wilson back for their first round district game.
“We have to get refocused. I thought we lost a little focus after a good week last week. We maybe felt like things would come easy, but they won’t. “
Sumner-Fredericksburg 9, East Marshall 7
A six-run surge in the fifth had the Mustangs in position for a comeback win over Sumner-Fredericksburg though the Cougars responded with their own six-spot in their half of the frame.
Sam Benzing’s two-run single sparked the East Marshall rally as DeBondt scored on a bases-loaded walk to knot the game at 3 all. Sam Benzing and Brock Pieters each came through on passed balls before Josh Benzing drove in another tally with a fielder’s choice at second.
Sumner-Fredericksburg took advantage of two errors and a couple controversial calls to reclaim control. DeBondt appeared to have the second out of the inning when stepping on second and later dropping the ball while trying to transfer it to his other hand for a potential double play. The runner was ruled safe and a run scored before another one crossed from third when a balk was ruled against relief pitcher Mommer. Gunner Mohs was initially thrown out at the plate but was later ruled safe after a discussion between the umpires.
Keegan Meier added a two-run double and another run scored on a passed ball as Sumner-Fredericksburg took a 9-6 lead. Ryan Puumala’s RBI single brought the Mustangs within two in the sixth before the Cougars closed it out.
Starter Caleb Benzing allowed eight runs (five earned) on seven hits and three walks in 4 1/3 innings for the loss. Mommer tossed the final 1 2/3 frames surrendering one run on one hit, walking two and fanning a pair.
Meier won in relief allowing one run on four walks in one frame. Damon Nuss earned the save with 1 2/3 innings of shutout ball. He gave up two hits, struck out three and walked none. Mohs was chased in the fifth and allowed six runs on three hits, six walks and a hit batsmen.
Sumner-Fredericksburg won the tournament final 2-1 over Dike-New Hartford with all three runs coming in the second frame. Trevor Johnson allowed two runs on five hits and two walks in the loss. No Cougar stats were available.
Dike-New Hartford 8, BCLUW 0
Carson Parker tossed a complete game one-hit shutout to guide the Wolverines (13-9) past the Comets. Parker fanned 12 and issued three walks as Dike-NH used small ball to tally three runs in the third, one in the fourth, three in the fifth and another in the sixth. The Wolverines racked up six hits and pounced on two BCLUW errors. Lane Caster had the lone hit for the Comets.
“We saw one of the better pitchers we’ve gone up against all year,” Zoske said of Parker.
Caster gave up seven runs on six hits, four walks and a strikeout in the loss. Isaac Novak threw the final two frames and gave up a run on four free passes.
The Comets entered the weekend on a four-game win streak including a 7-6 eight-inning victory over NICL West frontrunner West Marshall. BCLUW hosts Hudson Monday and heads to Union, La Porte City Tuesday. East Marshall hosts Denver Tuesday before closing the regular season with a home game the following Tuesday against Colo-NESCO.