Walks, errors prove costly for Thunder
The Zimmerman Thunder baseball team made their way up to Cloquet for the first round of the Section 7AAA tournament. It was one of those odd games where if you were to just look at a stat sheet, you would think the Thunder won fairly handily, but then you see the score and they ended up falling 5-3.
It’s been the same story for a majority of the season. The Thunder will out hit a team, but end up losing, and the reason why always seems to come back to walks and errors.
“They jumped up 3-0 right away,” Zimmerman head coach Chris Riley said of Cloquet in the first inning. “Nate Carlin started for us and he had four of his seven walks in the first inning and they kind of capitalized with a double then. I think we had one error, so they got one earned run, technically, that inning. So that kind of put us in a hole right from the get go.”
But instead of letting an inning like that snowball, like it’s done other times throughout the season, the Thunder were able to settle down and move on from it. Carlin especially, as he came back out after throwing 42 pitches in the first inning to having a string off innings where he shut down their opponents in just 10 or 11 pitches.
“It was good because he bounced back and kept doing what our game plan was,” Riley said of his starting pitcher. “Didn’t get complacent about trying to do too much. I think that’s what we’ve been preaching the last few weeks, ‘One out at a time and your goal is three outs an inning.’ They’ve kind of started to buy into that a little bit here towards the end.
The Thunder were also able to battle back offensively, by getting two runs in the third inning and another one in the sixth to tie it up 3-3.
They had pretty much taken Cloquet out of the game and seemed to be ready to complete the come-from-behind upset win, but then the bottom of the sixth inning came a calling. The bottom of Cloquet’s order was due up, and it seemed as though the Thunder were going to get back up to bat quickly, especially with the way Carlin had been pitching.
But Cloquet had other plans. They started off with a double and then drew two more walks to load the bases with one out. At that point, all it took was a ball to bounce over the pitcher’s head and into the outfield to change the momentum.
“We just chose to play everyone in because we’re not a team that really does double plays really well, necessarily,” Riley explained. “So at that time we were just trying to play for the out at home, hopefully, and get to that two outs and then get back to normal depth. But he hit a hopper over the pitcher and it was just out of the reach of our two guys pinching in. Went through to the center fielder and two guys were able to score.”
The head coach went on to explain that the first run scored on the hit, and the second one scored because the ball snuck under the center fielder’s glove. Once again it was errors and walks that cost the Thunder a win, but they are not done yet.
They still have a shot at making it through the section tournament, but it all starts with cleaning up their mistakes and focusing on the little things.
Thunder looking to regain confidence
Confidence in sports can be a funny thing. The smallest of plays can often change the behavior of a team, and sometimes even change the course of a game.
That seemed to be the case for the Zimmerman baseball team on Tuesday, May 16, when they hosted Little Falls.
Little Falls was able to score three runs in the top of the first inning, which was not the way the Thunder hoped to start, but they had a chance to answer early. The had the bases loaded in the bottom of that opening inning, but they ended up stranding all the runners.
“I was telling the coach the stats, left on base is over 100 already this year,” head coach Chris Riley said. “We’ve had our chances, but I don’t know if they tense up. We’ve never been a good, with guys in scoring position where you just rally and keep pumping them in like some of the other teams do.”
Things would go even more south by the time the third inning rolled around as Zimmerman’s catcher tried to pick off a Little Falls runner at third, but instead of rifle it down the baseline he appeared to try and float it in to the third baseman, which resulted in the ball going into left field and a runner scoring.
Then the catcher pulled his foot off home plate on a force out, allowing another run to score. The pitcher followed that up by walking a batter with the bases loaded. A little pop, which seemed routine, landed between the second baseman and right fielder to score more, and before you know it the Thunder were trailing 11-1 in the third inning.
Every little thing that went wrong just seemed to effect the players more and more, which resulted in more and more things going wrong.
“I think they’re just playing on their heels more versus trying to be aggressive and throw the ball around – snap the ball down to third or first,” Riley said after the game.
The trick now for the Thunder is to get over the five-inning, 12-1 loss they suffered against Little Falls, and get their confidence back before the section tournament. Riley said they have some very winnable games coming up, which should help them out, and then a week off to rest up before playoff time arrives.
“Going into playoffs,” the head coach began, “we get the right pitching combination with the defense in the first game or two, we should hopefully be alright and competitive.”
Thunder’s win streak ends at three
The Zimmerman Thunder baseball team finally seemed to have everything figured out, winning three games in a row after a 0-5 start. Then they got fortunate on May 2, getting to host Foley instead of traveling on the road like it was originally planned – all three of their wins came at home.
Things would not go as planned for the Thunder, though, as they quickly found themselves trailing 6-0 after the first two innings.
“Kind of had a bad start. First two innings, they scored six runs on us. Had an error in the first inning that just crushed us, I think,” head coach Chris Riley said. “Our starter only went through two innings today, had those six runs through the first two innings, so that put us in a hole right away. I guess the middle innings we played even or better ball than them, but giving those six runs right away is hard to overcome.”
In their two games before their matchup against Foley, the Thunder played error-free baseball. Recording 21 straight outs against More on April 24, and against Milaca on April 28, so that error in the first inning, and the one’s to follow it really seemed to change the pace of the game.
Another things that the errors do is cause a pitcher’s pitch count to climb quickly, and with the new rules in place, it usually means a shorter outing. The Thunder’s starting pitcher Ryan Acker only lasted two innings, and then they had to play around with some things because they still needed pitchers for their games on Friday and Saturday.
First, they threw in Jeg Schottenbauer to start the third inning, and he lasted for 3 1/3 innings. Riley said he would have liked for him to go longer, but his arm just wasn’t used to pitching for that long.
“Jeg Schottenbauer had been in there for, he was in the 40-pitch mark and had only pitched maybe another time this year for a game, so I think he was getting towards the top of his pitch count for arm strength,” the head coach explained.
After Schottenbauer, it was Ethan Swirtz who took the mound, and he was able to finish up the final 1 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run, and striking out three batters, which is something the coaches liked to see since it was his first time pitching on varsity this season.
Another bright spot for the Thunder in this game was their bats. They recorded 10 hits as a team, with Tre Wilkins going 2-for-3 with a walk, Derek McMahon going 2-for-3 with a walk, Brody Wibeto going 2-for-4, Mac Nelson going 1-for-2 with a walk, and Acker going 2-for-4 with a home run, his third of the season.
Unfortunately, even with the good hitting, the Thunder were unable to keep their winning streak alive as they fell to Foley 11-6.
“You’ve got to move on and get better the next day,” Riley said. “We’ll go in tomorrow and get some kinks worked out with the fielding and communication. We did get 10 hits, but we also struck out nine times, I think. So it seemed like we were either hitting it or we were striking out. None of those factors of just putting it in play, where I think we need to get a little better at that too.”
Thunder fall 9-5 in home opener
The 2017 baseball season is officially underway for the Zimmerman Thunder as they played in their first game at home against Albany on Thursday, April 6.
It was a beautiful day when the players first took the field, but temperatures began to drop as play went on and the sun started setting behind the Thunder dugout. The cold was only made worse by the wind blowing in from left field, but the players continued to tough it out.
Albany was able to jump out to a 1-0 lead in the top of first inning, but the Thunder came right back in the bottom and tied it up. Both teams were held scoreless in the second, and then it was Albany finding themselves on top again in the third.
They were able to make it a 3-1 game and then extended it to 6-1 in the fourth and 7-1 in the fifth. Things were not looking good for the home team, but they weren’t about ready to give up. Two runs scored when Mac Nelson put the ball into play during the fifth inning, and reached safely on a fielders choice, making it a 7-3 game.
The Thunder then held Albany scoreless in the top of the sixth, and were looking to cut down the lead even further in the bottom of the inning. Tre Wilkins started things off with a single, and then Jesse Astrup blasted a double right after him.
Runners were sitting on second and third when Jacob Miller, the team’s leadoff hitter, stepped up to the plate, and he wasn’t about to waste the opportunity. He recorded a double of his own, scoring Wilkins and Astrup, and cutting Albany’s lead to 7-5. But that would be the end of the Thunder’s rally.
They would need to hold Albany scoreless in the top of the final inning if they had a realistic shot at winning the game, but their opponents were able to come up with a couple big hits of their own. The score was 9-5 by the time the Thunder got back to the plate, but that was how it would end.
The game got a little lopsided at times, but the only reason for that was the errors the Thunder committed, seven of them throughout the game according to head coach Chris Riley.
“A couple throwing errors especially, and that will come with more game reps,” he explained. “A couple errors I think we were just sitting on our heels instead of getting up on the ball, so that was a big factor there.”
It was just the first game of the season for the Thunder, and that likely played into a lot of the mistakes that were made. They were excited for the season to finally get underway, and still knocking off a little bit of rust.
Now, Riley is just looking for his team to improve in their next game, which will be Friday, April 7, at home against Hibbing. The game is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m.
“Every game I tell them, ‘Hey, we’ll get better each game,’” Riley said after the loss. “We’ll find out tomorrow if we get better and take another step.”
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