Opportunistic Mustangs run down Raiders in district opener
ALLEMAN – Making solid contact against CMB lefty Brady Stover proved a difficult endeavor for East Marshall.
But once the ball was in play, the Mustangs took anything the Raiders gave them and ran with it.
Scoring two runs off a wild pitch, three on passed balls and two more on errors, the East Marshall baseball team capitalized on CMB’s many miscues in an 8-0 Class 2A District 13 quarterfinal victory Saturday.
The Raiders (1-22) committed four errors and allowed four unearned runs in their 12th straight defeat as the Mustangs overcame a 13-strikeout performance from Stover.
East Marshall (13-16) gets a third crack at NICL West Division rival West Marshall (20-9) in the district semifinal Tuesday at 5 p.m. in Alleman. The Trojans, who swept the Mustangs during the regular season behind ace Nolan Sinning, received a bye in the first round.
Like Sinning, Stover limited the Mustangs offensive opportunities allowing just three hits in 5 1/3 innings, though East Marshall cashed in on extra outs and five walks.
“He’s one of the better pitchers we’ve seen all year,” said East Marshall hurler Nick Long, who turned in a two-hit, nine-strikeout gem with no walks in the shutout. “We were just trying to put the ball in play after a while. We knew what their defense was like.”
The Mustangs pounced on the Raiders’ misplays for three runs in the third. Josh Benzing reached on an error to lead off and Nick Mommer followed with a walk. After a double steal, Nate DeBondt plated Benzing with a hard grounder up the first-base line before both Mommer and DeBondt reached home on a wild pitch.
East Marshall took advantage again in the fourth as Brock Pieters walked, Mommer reached on an error and Caleb Benzing drove in Pieters with a grounder up the middle. Staying aggressive on the basepaths, Mommer and Benzing both came across the plate on passed balls to double the lead at 6-0.
The second three-run surge visibly shook up Stover, who fell to 0-6 despite his 74 strikeouts in 37 innings on the season.
“That’s how it’s been all year,” CMB coach Max Seeman said. “Brady starts really well, throwing strikes and getting ground balls and we just can’t make the play. And then he thinks it’s his fault so he gets in his own head and it just kind of goes downhill from there.”
The Mustangs rode the downhill momentum for two more insurance runs in the sixth as Long started with a drive to right field, before Pieters reached on a bunt and moved to second after the errant throw to first sailed high. Adam Puumala (pinch-running for Long) scored on yet another passed ball, before Mommer plated Pieters’ courtesy runner Dru Boliver after reaching on the Raiders’ four error of the game.
“If we make a couple plays in the infield and knock a couple balls down, it’s a 0-0 game because we’re out of those big innings,” Seeman said.
Stover waved off his coach after the last run but was replaced by Zach Hartgers, who retired the two batters he faced.
“It’s postseason time – you win with pitching and defense,” East Marshall coach Justin Frost said.
The Mustangs made good on both ends of the equation as Long (6-3) retired 19 straight batters after Stover opened the game with a single. Aaron Haupert snapped the streak with another single to lead off the seventh, as the only other runner to reach base during the drought was Stover on a dropped third strike in the third.
“Nick pitched extremely well and started to get a little more feel for his breaking ball toward the latter innings, while mixing it in with his fastball,” Frost said. “Defensively we made all the plays that were possible and that’s all you can ask in a defense.”
Sam Benzing punctuated the fine defensive performance by sticking with a ball he initially bobbled at third to retire Darren Sadler for the final out as the Mustangs earned another opportunity against their cross-county rival.
“They’re solid and you have to minimize your mistakes (against them),” Frost said of NICL West Division champion West Marshall. “In the previous games we had a few errors and some mental errors that gave them some runs. We’ll have to put the ball in play but with a tough pitcher like (Sinning), you just have to take what you can get.”
Saturday marked just the third game in July for the Mustangs, who had lost four of their last five entering the postseason. … The Trojans defeated East Marshall 7-2 in Gilman June 7 and 8-3 in State Center June 24. … Sinning limited the Mustangs to one hit in their last meeting. … West Marshall has lost 4 of its last 7 games including their season finale against Union Community. … The winner of Tuesday’s semifinal will likely meet Class 2A No. 2 ranked North Polk in the district final Saturday at 7 p.m. in Alleman. The Comets (26-4) face Des Moines Christian (13-21), which defeated Iowa Christian Academy 21-0 in four innings in their opener.