Early onslaught guides Mustangs to sixth straight

GILMAN – Two big innings at the plate for the East Marshall baseball team was all the Mustangs needed to end GMG’s six-game winning streak.

East Marshall plated five runs in the first and three more in the second to jump out to a commanding advantage and GMG never recovered during the Mustangs’ 11-1, five-inning win here Tuesday.

Austin Briney allowed just three hits, struck out three and faced the minimum three batters in three of the five innings on the mound, while Nick Long had two doubles, three RBIs and three runs to lead an East Marshall offense that collected just six hits but took advantage of six Wolverine errors as well as four walks and two hit pitches from starter Bridger Claassen.

“We’ve been working on being really aggressive early in the counts and hitting balls below our hands and I thought tonight we really didn’t cheat ourselves with high pitches,” East Marshall coach Justin Frost said. “Our approaches were really good, and if the only thing that I can complain about was our protection of the two-strike breaking ball a few times, then we probably had a good night at the plate.”

It was the sixth straight win for the Mustangs, who improved to 16-4 on the season. Their last loss was a 2-1 setback to NICL West rival South Tama County back on June 9. That still is the only conference loss of the season for East Marshall.

GMG, on the other hand, lost for the first time in seven games. The Wolverines (7-5) were last defeated by BCLUW on June 3, but mistakes in the field and too many free bases doomed the Iowa Star Conference representatives.

“We needed to bring a full team game to compete with this team and that meant getting the bat on the ball, taking care of defense and limiting walks,” said GMG coach Jay Beichley. “We did a good job at the plate with getting the bat on the ball, but we had too many errors and too many walks.”

It was the first win of the season for Briney, who had been struggling with headaches in recent weeks, and the first pitching appearance of the year for Claassen.

Claasen led off the game with a double and then scored on an RBI ground out by Austin Vaughn to give the Wolverines a short-lived lead in the first inning.

East Marshall recovered in its half of the frame and plated five runs on two hits and one GMG error. The first five batters reached base, and the big hit of the inning was Ryan Puumala’s two-run double. Long also drew a walk with the bases loaded and Zach Rubenbauer and Josh Benzing each drove in runs on ground outs to third base.

The Mustangs’ second at-bat started with back-to-back GMG errors that put Briney’s pinch runner Luke Svendsen on second base. Caleb Benzing walked and Nate DeBondt reached on an unsuccessful fielder’s choice that loaded the bases. Sam Benzing’s hit by a pitch plated Svendsen and another long drive by Puumala plated two more runs. The fly ball to the gap was misplayed in the outfield, and those extra runs made it 8-1.

Briney allowed two hits in the fourth but three more runs for the Mustangs ended the game early.

Long doubled in the fourth, went to third on a groundout and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly to center field by Rubenbauer, who had two RBIs on the night. Long’s two-run, walk-off double in the bottom of the fifth scored Caleb Benzing and DeBondt.

“We have five games this week. Anytime you can give a kid a break, it’s a good thing,” said Frost of the advantage to play just five innings. “We have played a lot of games in not very many days so it’s good to have these short nights once in awhile.”

Both teams decided to rest other pitchers for conference games later in the week. The Mustangs had a few arms ready to go but didn’t need to make the switch with Briney retiring batters with ease.

“He hit the locations, kept the ball down, pitched to contact and our defense played well behind him,” said Frost.

The Mustangs will try to use their current win streak as momentum heading into an NICL West tilt with Gladbrook-Reinbeck on Thursday. At 10-1 in league play, East Marshall can take another step closer to a conference title with a victory.

GMG, on the other hand, will try to have a short memory and flush Tuesday’s loss down the drain as the Wolverines return to Iowa Star Conference play today against CAL. They also host Class 1A No. 7 ranked Don Bosco on Friday.

“We want to win every game, but we are on a roll right now in our conference,” said Beichley. “We just need to flush this and get ready for CAL tomorrow and try to get a win there.”

Both of GMG’s home games against CAL and Don Bosco begin at 7 p.m. East Marshall’s road game with Gladbrook-Reinbeck kicks off at 7:30 p.m.