Lions hand Culver 10-4 NSC loss

BREMEN — Success in the game of baseball often requires a short memory.
When Culver’s first three batters went double, double, triple, and the Cavaliers scored three runs in their first five at-bats, it looked like it might be a long night for Bremen. But the Lions put it behind them and bore down with two runs in the bottom of the first, then tacked on another four in the second en route to a 10-4 Northern State Conference defeat of visiting Culver Wednesday night in Bremen.
“Culver usually comes out and they hit the ball well right away, and we’re used to that,” said Bremen head coach Bo Hundt. “The biggest thing is we left pitches up early in the game there, especially in the first inning, and that’s what happens. They’re going to swing the bats, and in a field like ours there’s a lot of room out here to hit the ball. They hit it well, and they capitalized. Our kids kept battling and got back 3-2 and came back and took the lead the next inning. I was happy to see that they battled back and didn’t give up right away.”
With the wind blowing straight out, the Cavs jumped on top early as Collin Stevens doubled the opening pitch to the left field fence, Kyle Vlach followed up with an RBI double to deep center, and Randy Cline scored him with another long fly to deep center for three bags. The blitz momentarily rattled Bremen as sophomore starter Jacob Bennitt walked Nick Pritz with four straight balls, and Sam Hissong reached on an error at second that scored Cline and put Pritz on third. But Bennitt fanned the next two batters and induced a pop-out to first to hold the damage to three runs with runners on second and third.
“We talk to the kids about coming out aggressive, and the first four or five hitters that we have in our lineup are fairly aggressive with the bat, the first three especially,” said Culver coach Mike Elliott. “We come out with a double, double and a triple to start. But we’ve got to get the bottom of our order — our six, seven, eight and nine guys — to get a little more aggressive at the plate. We’re taking too many pitches. You get your first five guys on and you plate three runs, you’re happy with it, but we also left guys on second and third with no outs. That’s the thing that has hurt our guys all year, is coming through big in key situations.”
The Lions cut the advantage to 3-2 in the bottom of the inning as Sean Knepper singled to left and reached second on the misplayed fly ball. Eric Knepper was hit by a pitch, and Sean scored on the next at-bat when Culver sophomore left-hander Chris Zehner’s pick-off throw to first flew errant with the Kneppers already on their way to stealing second and third. Nate Leeper struck out on a seven-pitch at-bat, and Tyler Coffel singled in Eric with a fly to shallow right before Pritz’ saved the tying run with a double play on a diving catch in shallow center and throw to first that caught Coffel in no man’s land between first and second.
Stevens drew a walk on a seven-pitch at-bat but was left on first in the top of the second, and things got out of control for the Cavs in the bottom of the inning as Bremen punished them for three walks and two mistakes in the frame.
Austin Gardner drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on Ben Coxey’s groundout to third, designated hitter Dillon Mullen put a ball in play to short and reached when the hopper was mishandled, and Zehner walked Bremen nine hitter Wes Burkholder to load the bases. Sean Knepper drew a walk to plate Gardner for the tying run as the top of the order came back around before Kyle Vlach took over for Zehner, inducing a foul-out to third for the second out of the inning.
But Vlach couldn’t quite wriggle off the hook as Leeper singled into shallow left to score Mullen and Burkholder both, and Sean Knepper scored when Leeper reached second on a run-and-hit mental error as Coffel put a hard chopper in play to second, and Cavs sophomore Shawn Russel tossed the ball over to Stevens as he made his way from short to second base, instead of getting the easy third out at first.
That big inning turned out to be all the Lions needed as they salted away their second conference win to move to 2-0 in NSC play.
“We jump up three to nothing, and that’s happened to us all year. When we have had leads, we tend to give them away pretty quick, whether it be pitching or lack of defense, keep coming up with the plays,” said Elliott. “We tell the kids if we can stop some of that momentum and not put so much pressure on ourselves… We’ve got to realize right now when we’re out in the lead, the pressure’s not necessarily on us. It is, but we’ve got to be able to handle it and make the other team earn their runs and not give up some of the easy stuff that we have in the first eight games here. Sitting at 0-8, the kids are putting a little bit more pressure on themselves to make some plays, and that’s backfired at times. We’ve not been able to put a full seven innings together. We’ve played well in spurts.”
“That was the key today for our guys today. We got some guys who battled today in the counts and got some walks, and after that we got some timely hits,” said Hundt. “That’s the game of baseball. You’ve got to take advantage of the mistakes of the other team, and we were able to do that tonight.
Bennitt also moved to 2-0 on the season as the young pitcher went six innings giving up just five hits — only two after Culver’s initial outburst in the top of the first — with nine strikeouts and three walks for three earned runs. Mullen took over to close in the seventh and balked in the Cavs’ final run with two outs as Stevens reached on a fielder’s choice, advanced to second on a Vlach single and moved to third when Pritz drew a two-out walk.
But it was too little, too late as Hissong put a routine grounder in play to short for the game’s final out.
“Bennitt, after the first inning he settled down,” Hundt said. “Second inning, he struggled just a bit at the beginning, but after that he settled down and pitched how we know he can pitch. He struggled to get the curveball across the plate early, but after that he was almost un-hitable. They got a couple little shots, but other than that he was able to shut them down. He got to the pitch count there in the sixth inning, had to take him out and bring in Mullen for the seventh, but we were able to give Dillon some work there in the seventh as well.”
Zehner took the loss in his first start as Culver stayed winless at 0-8 with an 0-3 NSC start. The Cavs will take a week off from varsity play before resuming play next Wednesday.
“The kids are putting a little too much pressure on themselves. We’ve got a couple kids out right now, and we’re playing some kids with not a lot of varsity experience, but you’ve still got to come and be aggressive at the plate and make some things happen,” said Elliott.
“We’re going to keep working on it. Our seniors are taking off for a few games, and we’ve got a few practices and some JV games, and we’ll get some kids some more experience and get ready to go.”
At Bremen
Culver: 300 000 1 — 4 6 5
Bremen: 242 002 x — 10 9 1
Jacob Bennitt (W, 2-0), Dillon Mullen (7) and Austin Gall; Chris Zehner (L, 0-1), Kyle Vlach (2), Collin Stevens (6) and Sam Hissong.
2B: Stevens (C), Vlach (C), Mullen (B), Nate Leeper (B), Tyler Coffel (B)
3B: Randy Cline (C), Eric Knepper (B)
Records: Culver 0-8 (0-3 NSC), Bremen 4-3 (2-0 NSC)