BREMEN — Mickey Mantle once famously quipped that “Hitting the ball was easy. Running around the bases was the tough part.”
Bremen baseball found the opposite to be true in Wednesday’s Northern State Conference game with LaVille. Luckily for the Lions, they’re pretty darned good at running those bases.
Bremen base runners stole 12 bags and took another six on wild pitches, passed balls and errant pick-off throws to keep the pressure on the Lancers pitching staff, and the Lions stretched four hits into eight runs for an 8-1 Northern State Conference win over visiting LaVille at home Wednesday night.
“It was a lot of heads-up baseball — balls in the dirt, balls getting away from the catcher, slow moves to first base, slow moves to home. That had a lot to do with it,” said Bremen baseball coach Bo Hundt. “The kids had a good read on the pitcher and could tell the rotation to the plate so they were able to pick up steals off of that.
“It’s a big aspect of our game. There are lots of aspects to a baseball game, and that’s one of ours.”
While base running proved to be the big difference-maker, first Bremen batters had to find a way to get on base.
The Lions capitalized on 13 walks by the Lancers pitching staff, including six in the third inning alone as the home team broke the game open scoring three runs on wild pitches en route to a 4-0 lead.
Bremen starting pitcher Bryce Cassel coaxed a lead-off walk from Lancers freshman Jordan Smith batting in the No. 9 spot, Bobby Cornett bunted him over to second, and Cassel took third on a balk by Smith. Eric Knepper drew a walk and stole second, and Cassel scored when Knepper moved to third on a wild pitch. Drew Coffel drew a second straight walk then stole second, brother Tyler Coffel drove in Knepper with a SAC fly to deep center that moved Drew over to third, and Drew scored on a will pitch to Wes Burkholder. Burkholder stole second, and when Smith’s wild pitch to Jacob Bennitt rolled to the backstop, Burkholder got on his horse to score all the way from second.
Later in the night, during Bremen’s three-run sixth, Burkholder scored all the way from first on an errant pick-off throw from LaVille reliever Ryan Bettcher to first baseman Chris Bailey. Tyler Coffel also scored on the play after stealing second and taking third on a wild pitch, and the two runs brought the score to its final margin.
“Wes has got a little bit of wheels, and the ball got away, and he’s heads-up and he’s going 100 percent the whole time,” said Hundt. “That’s what we tell them — you can never give up on a play until the umpires call time or until we tell you to stop at a base, and that’s just heads-up base running.”
LaVille had a chance to cut into its deficit in the fourth when Bailey singled down the left field line and took second on a throwing error in a run-down situation. But when Dalton Sauer’s long fly into center was caught, Bailey held up at second instead of taking third. Cassel’s balk on the next at bat would have scored Bailey to cut the Bremen lead to 4-1, but he was instead left stranded as Josh Chrisman fanned to retire the side.
“It changes things,” said LaVille head coach Dave Pittman of the missed opportunity. “I’m kind of disappointed it’s our older kids making these mistakes. We started three sophomores and a freshman today, and I thought they played pretty well but when you have seniors making mental blunders it’s hard to swallow.”
The Lancers finally scratched out a run trailing 5-0 in the sixth, but they had a chance at a big inning.
Dillon Mullen struggled in relief of Cassel, giving up a leadoff walk to Bettcher and two straight singles to Brandon Gullett and Smith — the latter a beautiful bunt to no-man’s land down the first base line — to load the bases with none out, and Hundt wasted no time in bringing Knepper in to replace Mullen.
Bettcher scored on a throwing error from second to first on an attempted double play as Sauer grounded into a fielder’s choice at short, but Knepper wriggled off the hook with his second strikeout of the inning.
Knepper finished with four strikeouts in just six batters faced working ahead with a potent fastball and some nasty breaking pitches for the third strike.
“We’ve struggled with this all year — getting runners into scoring position and then not even being able to put the ball in play,” said Pittman. “We had nobody out, the bases loaded, and our four, five and six hitters coming up, and we got one run out of it. I think we had two strikeouts in there. I don’t have an answer to why we can’t put the bat on the ball when we have base runners.”
“Dillon came in and struggled a little bit; we haven’t gotten Dillon a lot of work on the mound… With Eric coming in to close it out then, it’s a role that Eric’s taken pride in, and he’s done a great job with it,” said Hundt.
While Knepper closed it out, Cassel got the win in his first varsity start. The freshman southpaw struck out eight while giving up two hits in five innings of shutout baseball.
“I think a lot of the game came down to control on the defensive side with Bryce’s first start ever as a freshman,” Hundt said. “He’s only throw one inning at the varsity level. He struck out eight guys; kept the ball around the zone. He was around the zone and threw strikes, and that’s exactly what we asked him to do. Hat’s off to him for a great job in his first varsity win.”
LaVille’s young squad now falls to 0-7 on the year and 0-4 in the NSC. It’s not the record the Lancers would like, but Pittman sees improvement from his team, which features just two seniors and three sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup.
“It’s hard to single anybody out when you lose by seven runs, but I’m pleased with the way our kids work,” said Pittman. “Even after a game when we lose and we go to practice they’re still working hard and wanting to improve. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re not where we were either.”
Bremen improves to 6-3 overall with a 3-1 NSC mark. The Lions’ lone NSC loss came at the hands of Class 3A No. 4 John Glenn, which lost a six-inning contest with Jimtown Monday to leave the Northern State Conference race wide open.
“It’s so early to even know who the favorite is or anything like that. We just need to go out every single game — it don’t matter who we’re playing, LaVille they haven’t won a game yet this year but they came out and battled us,” said Hundt. “We understand that, and we have to execute. The first inning we should have had four runs and we ended up coming out with zero runs. It was a couple base running mistakes not reading the signs at the plate, and if we’re not doing those things, teams can sneak up and get you.”
• BREMEN 8, LaVILLE 1
LaVille: 000 001 0 — 1 4 2
Bremen: 004 103 x — 8 4 2
Jordan Smith (L), Ryan Bettcher (4); Bryce Cassel (W), Dillon Mullen (6), Eric Knepper (6).
2B: Bobby Cornett (B), Dalton Sauer (L)
Records: LaVille 0-7 (0-4 NSC), Bremen 6-3 (3-1 NSC).