by Nate Loop
The Foresters hitters got to the St. Joseph Mustangs early and often, and rode the strong offensive output to an 8-6 victory, their fifth of the 2012 edition of this tournament. Shane Hoelscher was the biggest contributor, amassing three hits, two RBIs, and scoring two runs himself to lead his team to victory. The Foresters thus become the last undefeated team remaining in the tournament and play the Hays Larks on Thursday in the “Super Six” round. A victory there puts them in the National Championship Game.
On Wednesday, Brandon Pierce picked up the victory in middle relief, coming on in the fourth inning for floundering starter Ian McCarthy. Albert Minnis made a stellar relief performance as well, throwing 2 and 2/3 innings of one-hit baseball to preserve the Foresters lead.
When the Foresters have the bats going, victory can often seem like a foregone conclusion, thanks to the excellent pitching staff Manager Bill Pintard has assembled. But baseball is an unforgiving sport, and when you don’t have it on the mound, you pay for it, a sobering truth that both starting pitchers were all to aware of in this contest.
The Foresters blazed out to a 5-2 lead after three innings of play, roughing up St. Joseph starter Adam Maddox, who did not have his best stuff with him on the mound. The Sters proved to be tough outs throughout the entire lineup, as each of the first five runs was driven in by a different Foresters player. Hoelscher wasn’t even involved in the scoring until the third inning, when he drove in Ryan O’Hearn on a single for the fifth run of the game.
Meanwhile, in the top halves of the early innings, Foresters starter Ian McCarthy was having his own struggles. He gave up two runs in the first inning, although only the second was an earned run, as Saulyer Saxon scored the first run of the game for St. Joes on a throwing error by Sters right fielder Zach Fish.
After two scoreless innings, the Mustangs brought home two runs in the top of the 4th inning to close the gap to 5-4 and knock McCarthy out of the game early. Kyle Simpson singled to bring home two of his fellow Mustangs, Patrick Burkhart and Jake Kretzer, and this was the nail in the coffin for McCarthy’s day, as Manager Pintard brought in Brandon Pierce to stop the bleeding.
The Mustangs tied the game up at 5-5 after the top of the 5th inning, but the comeback was short lived, as the Foresters immediately came back for two runs of their own in the bottom of the fifth to retake the lead at 7-5.
Ryan O’Hearn led off with a double, and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Jacob Felts. Hoelscher came through for his second RBI of the game, lacing a single into the outfield to allow O’Hearn to score. After helping out so many of his teammates score, it was Hoelscher’s turn to cross home plate, and he scored on a double by Arby Fields.
The Foresters stretched their lead to 8-5 in the 6th inning thanks to the efforts of Richard Sanguinetti. He reached base on a single, then stole second base. He advanced to third on a groundout by Robert Vickers, and then scored on a sacrifice fly by Austin Davidson.
Being the hard-throwing, no-nonsense pitcher that he is, Foresters reliever Albert Minnis was in no mood for the offensive flurries to continue. He brought some peace and quiet back to the game, and proceeded to mow down the Mustangs batters in a neat and orderly fashion, collecting the final out of the sixth inning and throwing all the way into the ninth inning.
With Hunter Lemke not completely warmed up for the start of the ninth, Pintard rode the hot hand of Minnis, at least for one out.
The ninth inning is Lemke’s territory, and he came on with a three run lead and just two outs to collect to secure victory.
However, Lemke wasn’t his usual razor sharp self, as it seems the Foresters cannot get through a game of this NBC World Series without some nerve-wracking late inning drama.
Lemke’s first pitch was converted into a single by Tanner Lubach. Lemke then hit the next batter T.J. Dailey, putting runners on first and second base. Sam Tolleson then grounded into a fielder’s choice, with Dailey getting forced out at second and Lubach safely moving to third. Burkhart then came through with a single to score Lubach and make the score 8-6, and Tolleson moved safely to second base.
All of this meant that the Mustangs brought the winning run to the plate in the form of Alec Rosales. Lemke had come in for mop-up duty– not even a save opportunity was on the line with two outs to go and a three run lead– but instead sprung a leak.
But Lemke is a bonafide closer after all, and does his best work under pressure. Rosales never really stood a chance up there, as Lemke struck him out looking on five pitches, and the Foresters had another victory wrapped up.
Photo by Eric Isaacs