Midkota baseball continues to energize competitive sense following near-comeback against Carrington
The Mustang's pieces for success are all laid out and they're coming together...slowly. The will to win and the skill is there, but the Mustangs are still working on ways to keep their competitive rhythm going from first pitch to final strike.
Friday afternoon's bout against Carrington wasn't an ideal start for the Mustangs as they would fall into a 3-0 hole early. By the time they had reached the third inning, they were already down 7-0 and didn't have a hit, getting on base off of two players hit by pitches and a walk. However, with a change on the mound, things slowly, but surely, began to change.
The Cardinals would score one more run in the fifth inning, but Midkota's defense began to tighten up and the bats were finding some heat. Eventually, things would burst open in the sixth inning, seeing the Mustangs score four runs and chop the lead in half late. The seventh inning saw all three batters fly out, ending the game at 8-4 in favor of Carrington, but even in a loss, something good had begun to brew for the Mustangs.
"One thing we ask tell players before every game is that the scoreboard isn't the most important thing," Mustangs head coach Logan Lund said. "We have to find a way to grow and get better, individually and as a team. In an 8-0 game, you're just looking at getting a better at-bat than the first time through. On the mound, you just gotta throw the ball over the plate. Late in the game, we did that, and it carried over to our offense, but it was just too late."
The offense juiced up late for Midkota, seeing the Mustangs pick up three hits in its four-run sixth inning. In the seventh, while they would go down the order and fly out, senior infielder Cole Hendrickson's and junior catcher Kaleb Short's shots would find the height to go far, but not the distance. The Mustangs had a handful of strong at-bats in their game, but shots would either be battling with the wind to stay fair or fly out.
"We've got a lot of speed and not necessarily a lot of guys who are going to drive it to the gaps," Lund said. "We want guys to get on base, do some stealing, some bunting, and all that. For some of these kids, it's the first time they're seeing live at-bat's at the varsity level, so they just need to get 30,40 at-bats before they feel comfortable. We've gone through a lull these last few games, but at the end of this game, we saw some improvements."
Lund said in addition to getting repetitions at-bat, the Mustangs are focusing on having more confidence in their swings instead of waiting through the entire count, something that has been more of a mental factor. However, one thing Midkota has found a huge advantage in is taking advantage of their opponent's mistakes.
Two of the four runs scored by the Mustangs on Friday were off of blunders by the Cardinals, one off a wild pitch and the other off a fielding error. They also found first base three times off of hit pitches. Hendrickson even challenged the catcher in attempting to steal home early on in the game but was tagged out. One Midkota got on base, they worked the diamond like a miner.
"We talked about right after the game that you've got to pay attention to detail," Lund said. "You gotta know what's going on before the pitch occurs. You can't just react at that moment and get it done. You've got to know the situation before it happens. We've got some guys that are doing that and some that aren't."
On the mound, the Mustangs have found an edge in their arms. After allowing seven runs in three innings, junior pitcher James Vollmer was swapped out for freshman pitcher Preston Lee. Lund said that they have depth in their pitching, and it wasn't Vollmer's night. Lee would take over and give Midkota a defensive spark.
Lee would strike out two and allow one run over four innings. Behind Lee, the Mustangs fielding knowledge would begin to take charge as they would execute two successful double-plays and not give the Cardinals too much to work with when it came to long shots. The Mustang's are looking to role off their defensive success and correlate it into strong offense, along with rolling off Lee's hot hand.
"We have a lot of depth on the mound," Lund said. "James didn't have his best stuff, and that's going to happen. Preston is a strike-thrower. He's a young kid, but he knows the game and he knows what he needs to do. He trusts his defense and has been doing it all year. He's 2-0 (2-1 now) and is going to be a big arm for us down the stretch. We're going to need to do what he did for us these last for innings tonight."
Those final four innings of the game represented a window to more than the Mustangs are looking to open even more going into a busy stretch. What it comes down to is the ability to compete from start to finish according to Lund. The emotions of the players during and after the game showed the passion is there, but the task at hand is elongating the passion and transferring it deeper into the game.
Midkota believes that it can compete with just about anyone and all they need to put the pieces that are already there together. In the sixth inning, sophomore outfielder Trae Lillehaugen's score off an error, freshman infielder Ross Thompson's run to home off a wild pitch, and freshman infielder Zach Gibson's double to score junior outfielder Trent Ekren were all in a sequence.
"We gotta compete," Lund said. "We knew that was the one thing that may be a struggle at times coming into this season. A lot of people think it's going to be a rebuilding year, and it is, but we believe that we have a good enough team to compete with anybody. You've gotta compete with every pitch. You can't wait until you're down 8-0. Even if you do get behind, you gotta stay with it. We've had that happen a few times this year, and sometimes we fold, but today was not the case."
The near-comeback is something that the Mustangs believe will benefit them. Lund said that a lot of his guys were upset after the loss. but "winning the second half" gives them something to build off of. It also adds the effort from the coaches and the players to continue to up the overall sense of competitivity not just in games but in practice as well.
Early in the season, Midkota has gone 1-4 against region competition, but they believe that if they keep their nose to the grindstone, good things will happen. They have a busy week, playing South Border twice and on the road against Kidder County. Both teams pose different challenges, with South Border playing a handful of tight games and Kidder County still aiming for the top of the region standings.
"We've played three out of the five teams in our region and even with our inexperience and our young kids, I still believe that if we play well we can compete with anybody," Lund said. "But we need to get guys on base and allow us to do some of those things. We just have to find a groove and stay in the groove."