Devils Lake 'matured' throughout its split doubleheader against Bismarck
Growing pains are a concept and a reality. Usually, pain or throbbing felt in the legs most commonly felt in children are a sign that they're going through growing pains. From a conceptual perspective, it's the trial and error process that it takes in finding success.
Youth is a penalty on the Firebirds baseball roster this season and it's taken a while to adjust back to playing Class A baseball after a season off. Devils Lake took it on the chin against Fargo South on Tuesday, getting out-scored 23-11 in back-to-back games, and Saturday's series against Bismarck was looking like another headrest for the Firebirds.
The Firebirds defensive game struggled to find its grounding throughout the first game, seeing the Demons end the game via mercy rule 17-5. However, in game two, Devils Lake found a rock to stand on in game two in junior pitcher Caleb Schneider. After throwing four strikeouts and limiting the Demons to just a run over two and a half innings, Devils Lake began to connect at home plate.
Confidence and maturity began to grow for the Firebirds, seeing them go the distance with Bismarck to a 4-4 tie, before snapping it off of five runs in the fifth inning to defeat the Demons 9-4 for their first win of the season.
"It shows that between the first game and the second game that if you get the ball over the plate consistently, and don't walk guys, we can play with just about anybody," Firebirds head coach Brent Luehring said. "In the first game, starting to a freshman and going to a freshman, you could tell they were growing up as the game went on and in the second game they were ready to go."
Schneider played a major role in recovery from game one to game two and allowing the Firebirds to gain confidence on the defensive end. Luehring said that they wanted to keep the junior at shortstop but also wanted to give him time on the mound as he has stood out as one of the top pitchers this season for the Firebirds. After throwing two strikeouts and not allowing a hit in the first inning, Devils Lake stuck to its guns for eight innings in No. 2.
Schneider would throw five strikeouts over the course of eight innings, allowing four runs off of 12 hits. As Schneider continued to fire away on the mound, his teammates were able to stand tall behind them, holding their ground during five and a half innings where both teams found themselves either tied or up by a point at the end of three counts.
"He kept us in the game and kept it flowing, and we got a little break in the fifth inning when Hayden basically made the run himself," Luehring said. "When you can stay in it and stay close, you have a chance. It keeps the guys engaged."
Devils Lake would eventually kick down the door in the sixth inning, scoring five runs off of five hits. Junior catcher Hayden Hofstad would get things heated up for the Firebirds early on, doubling off an error from Bismarck and stealing third and home to give Devils Lake a 5-4 edge. From that point on, any misstep the Demons would make, the Firebirds would be right there to pounce.
Two walks and an out later, Devils Lake would score four straight, scoring three off of singles and walking one home to blow open a 9-4 lead. From the third base box view, Luehring saw his youthful squad show growth from where they were from three hours earlier. Luehring said there was more confidence behind their swings and their overall mentality was up.
"They weren't being overwhelmed at bat and if they were down in a count they weren't saying 'oh crap I'm in a 1-2 count'," Luehring said. "They made at bats, grinded them out, put the ball in play, and didn't strike out a lot as the game went on. Putting it in play gives us a chance."
After building up a large lead late that basically secured the win for Devils Lake, the mentality of trust at the plate and wanting to the ball on defense settled in order to close out. It was a different mindset from 10-ish innings back where the Firebirds had eight runs scored on them in the second inning of their first game, seeing Bismarck blast to a 9-0 lead.
The first game where Devils Lake would cycle in freshman pitchers Beau Brodina and Drew Hofstad may have not been the prettiest one, but its the experience they need in order to deepen their bullpen according to Luegring.
"With our youth, you can't replace experience, and the only way to get that is playing," Luehring said. "They going to grow from it. Game one to game two is the biggest jump, but over the season, with more confidence and experience, situations are going to be more easier to handle."
Schneider's end-to-end performance put Devils Lake in a better situation pitching-wise going into next week according to Luegring. The Firebirds face off against two EDC squads in similar spots to Devils Lake in Valley City and Fargo North, both at home. Fargo North would defeat Sioux Falls Washington 10-8 on Saturday while Valley City was swept by Grand Forks Central on Thursday.
"Those are two teams that are around us in the rankings and it's just something to build on with confidence rather than going in 0-4," Luehring said. "We're coming off a win and we should have a lot of momentum, and the kids should have a little pep in their step."
In adding another marker in the Firebirds' growth, Luehring said the biggest lesson learned by his squad Saturday was their ability to handle stressful situations. After losing by 12 in game one, Devils Lake was able to turn everything around for a five run win.
"It's going to come down to how they handle the situations," Luehring said. "The biggest thing is if a mistake happens is to push it aside and be ready for the next play. The first game you could see that our mistakes were kind of building on us and compounded. This game we shoved the mistakes aside and get out off an inning where they went two-four-four. Just one game to another they were able to push their mistakes aside and lock-in."