Rough start? Bluejays get insta-chance to redeem
In an unbelieveable spring, it was a semi-nasty day when the Merrill boys split season-opening road games on Saturday. But MHS coach Brian Artac wasn’t complaining too much.
“The coaches asked me if I had ever played a game in March before, and I had to answer, ‘No, I don’t believe I ever had,’ ” he said. “But when that first game started it was 38°. It probably got to 48° by the time the day was over. Whatever happened to that sunshiny, 60° day?
“But the best thing to happen in several years is after a tough first game, we didn’t have to sit and dwell on it. We just jumped on a bus for Menomonie and played another game right away.”
The Bluejays struggled mightily in the opener at Chippewa Falls, losing 10-0, but they made the most of their second chance and defeated Menomonie 9-7.
The double competition was just what this young team needed.
“We started 14 different guys,” Artac said. “We’ve got to see what these young guys can do and who we’re going with.”
Merrill trailed 4-0 at the start of the second game, too, but then a switch went off.
“The first game we just did not hit the ball and even in the second game we weren’t getting to the ball out front. You’ve got to because you’ve got to get the hands extended. We were hitting behind, and then I don’t know what happened. It’s like they got hit by a lightning bolt, and they pounded out 15 hits. Tyrus (Grunenwald) went 4-for-4. That’s a heck of an opening game.”
Ben Anderson’s RBI double and David Pophal’s run-scoring single in the third cut it to 4-2, and Merrill took a 6-4 lead in the top of the fourth. Alex Cordova’s two-run hit and Garrett Pagel’s base-loaded walk helped.
Menomonie knotted it up in the bottom of the frame, and matched Merrill’s solo run in the fifth.
But a pair of runs in the sixth provided the victory margin. Mason Reinhardt and Ray Paul hit back-to-back RBI singles to make it happen.
Grunenwald (4-4), Anderson (2-3, 2B), Cordova (2-3, 2 RBI), Reinhardt (2-3, 2 RBI), Paul (2-4) and Pophal (2-5) paced the hitting.
On the mound, Pophal (1 H, 7 W, 3 K, 6 R, 4 ER in 3-1/3 I) started, and Tim Janke (3 H, 2 W, 1 K, 1 ER in 2-2/3 I) picked up his first varsity win. Cordova (0 H, 0 W, 1 K, 0 R in 1 I) closed it out.
Falling off a cliff
The Bluejays struggled to get anything going in the opener, managing only Cordova’s fourth-inning double in contrast to 10 strike-outs.
“The first game was just not a good exhibition,” Artac said. “We didn’t hit well, we didn’t pitch well and we didn’t play good defense. Put those all together and we didn’t do very well. I realize we’re only two weeks into the season, but so are the other teams.”
Kevin Bolder (5 H, 5 W, 5 K, 5 R, 4 ER in 3 I) took the los. Jahnke (5 H, 1 W, 2 K, 5 R, 3 ER in 1-1/3 I) came on in relief.