Merrill bounces back from Valley losses
The Bluejays baseball team finally got on a diamond late last week.
Merrill was edged 6-5 at Wis. Rapids on Friday, then stumbling to an 8-2 loss to D.C. Everest in Stevens Point on Saturday before regrouping with a 13-9 triumph over Lakeland.
“All three facets of the game we’re not doing well so far,” MHS coach Brian Artac said. “Some of that has to do with not being able to get outside. We’ve had three days outside, one day on a diamond for maybe an hour.”
The Jays kicked off the Lakeland contest with 6 runs in the 1st, and pushed it to 9-0 in the 2nd. After the T-Birds cut it to 9-5 in the 3rd, Merrill twice added a pair of runs that Lakeland matched.
“It was a beautiful day and we got a win, finally,” Artac said. “We’ll take that win and hope to get better.”
Alex Klug hit 3-4, scored 3 runs and stole 4 bases. Other big contributors were: Garrett Pagel (2-3, 2 R, 2 W), Seth Collins (2-3, 2 W), Tom Zuelsdorff (1-2, 2B, 2 R, 3 W, 3 SB) and Randall Cruz (3 W, 1 HBP, 2 R).
Merrill finished with 10 steals to go with 8 hits and 13 walks.
“We’re running the bases well,” Artac said.
Pitching duties were handled by David Pophal (5 H, 3 W, 4 K, 5 R in 3 I), Brad Juhlke (2 H, 3 W, 2 K, 2 R in 2 I) and Cruz (2 H, 1 W, 2 K, 2 R in 2 I).
Saturday’s opener featured Everest’s Josh Nielsen on the mound.
“We faced their #1, one of the top pitchers in the Valley,” Artac said. “You’re facing 85 miles-per-hour and then you go to Lakeland’s 65. That’s a tough adjustment.
“It was an 8-2 ballgame. If we don’t make six errors maybe we don’t win, but at least we only lose 3-2.”
Merrill took a 1-0 lead in the D.C.E. game, but gave up 3 in the bottom of the inning, and another in the second. After cutting it to 4-2, the Evergreens added a run in the 3rd and 3 in the 4th.
Merrill settled for single hits from Cruz, Ty Grunenwald, Klug and Zuelsdorff. Pophal walked twice.
“Tom Zuelsdorff has been pretty consistent,” Artac said. “I think he’s the only guy to get a hit every game.”
Merrill jumped out to a 5-1 lead, turning a 1-1 game with 1 in the 3rd and 3 in the 4th. But the Raiders knotted it in the bottom of the frame, then scored the winning run in the 6th.
“That was a great game,” Artac said. “We should have won it. I believe the close games that Rapids already played–a 6-5 loss to Wausau West and a 4-2 loss to Point–helped them. They had tight games under their belt.
“Randall was sick Friday. That might have made a difference. Then Saturday we had Randall but we didn’t have Mason (Reinhardt).”
Zuelsdorff and Pagel doubled in runs and Juhlke had the other hit.
Coleton Bloch (5 H, 7 W, 2 K, 5 ER in 4-1/3 I) started, and Seth Collins (2 H, 1 K, 1 R in 1-2/3 I) took the loss.
“Seth came in to the first varsity action in his life and did very well,” Artac said.
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