Hit and miss: Pipestone A’s go 1-2 in trio of Gopher League ball games

Whether or not the A’s would have traded Wednesday night’s 5-0 victory over the Ruthton Royals for a pair of wins in their ensuing games versus Worthington and Luverne, Thursday and Sunday, respectively, one can only speculate. But evening up the home/away series against the rival Royals in front of a swollen crowd at A’s Field in Pipestone, the A’s amateur baseball team enjoyed just about every pitch.

And to add intrigue to the occasion, all of the host’s pitches came off the fingertips of stalwart hurler Austin Evans who was coaxed out of retirement to toss the shut out. The growing Evans clan added to the sizable crowd, as Austin and his wife Jamie recently welcomed the birth of their fourth child.

“He went to his first ball game and dad actually got to play; we went to a few games this year, and I don’t think I was the only one who had the itch… not just me, but the boys and my wife miss it too,” said Evans, who looked to focus on family in tentatively hanging up the cleats following last season.”

Evans certainly gave his family and the larger Pipestone A’s community plenty to be proud of, as the right-handed workhorse threw strikes – 84 strikes to 62 balls – giving up a mere five hits over nine innings.

“When we were warming up, nothing did what it was supposed to; I told (catcher) Caleb (Tinklenberg) I was going to have to mix it up right away and try to work… not ‘beat’ them,” he said. “And it worked. I think we had two or three double plays and it was nice that we had a clean game tonight. We’ve talked about that a lot; if the defense plays well, good things are going to happen.”

Evans’ counterpart, Jared Baartman, had a solid start as well, but didn’t quite receive as tidy a defensive performance in giving up four earned runs on six hits – fanning three and walking four over five frames on the bump.

Despite a nifty 5u-3 double play initiated by former Pipestone Area player Chris Dougherty in the bottom of the third inning, the Royals had a collective five errors on the night. The second of those miscues opened the bottom of the third, and ensuing hits from A’s third baseman Brandan Alfson and left fielder Kaden Musch (double) helped the A’s take a two-run lead – one they’d not relinquish.

Meanwhile, the Pipestone garrison was solid throughout the evening, with fledgling amateur shortstop Merrick Heidebrink involved in the first of two A’s double plays. Both were inning-enders, as second baseman Austin Johnson flipped to Heidebrink to begin a 4-6-3 double play in the top of the third and Alfson firing over to Johnson in the top of the fourth before the latter completed the play with a zippy toss to veteran Collin Moeller at first base. And Alfson recovered from showing his age in staying with a stumbling knock-down effort in the top of the eighth, rising to his knees to a 5-4, inning-ending putout on Ruthton youngster Cody Wichmann’s drive to the left side.

“Defensively we’re coming around; we’ve knocked the errors down from 9-10 errors a game… one tonight and no errors the previous two games,” Pipestone player/manager Jordan Karels said. “That’s helping us keep games close; the pitchers are warmed up by this point in the season, and much more effective as well.

“Yeah, just against Ruthton this year I think we’ve had five double plays. And it’s different people there, too, so it’s not just one group of players making plays. We feel comfortable throwing just about anybody out there, and that’s always nice support to have as a manager.”

Each starter gave up one hit over the first two frames, and had the Pipestone defense not completed its double play in the top of the third, Jaymes Zollner’s one-out base hit to shallow left field might have broken the scoreless deadlock. 

Pipestone had a solid opportunity to add to its 2-0 with back-to-back, infield singles off the bats of Tinklenberg and Alfson with two out in the bottom of the fourth, but Baartman did well in coaxing a fly ball to left out of the powerful Moeller – credited with six home runs on the season.

“I’ve had on years and off years and I’ve focused on slowing the ‘process’ down at the plate,” said Moeller, who’s latest bomb came in the A’s previous game – a 4-3 loss to the Buttermakers in Hadley. “I’m not a spring chicken anymore, can’t be going crazy up there. I’ve seen pitchers change things up against me as this season’s progressed, a lot more off-speed stuff as opposed to fastballs, and you just try to adjust.”

While Baartman managed to keep Moeller hurting the Royals, the Ruthton hurler hit two batters in the bottom of the fifth to set A’s centerfielder Mitchel Carson for a heroic drive. Having gone 0-for-3 before stepping into the box with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, Carson waited for his pitch this time around, driving the ball to the gap in right-center field for a bases-clearing double that put the hosts on top 5-0.

“It’s a good time of the year to be seeing and hitting the ball well,” Karels said. “His at-bats have been better and we’re just continuing to work on things every game. We have a few more regular-season games to get there… get prepared for the playoffs.”

Carson’s defense wasn’t too shabby either, as he made an acrobatic diving catch of Brayden Baartman’s drive for the first out in the top of the ninth inning. Musch caught the next two, off the bats of Eric Wiering and Brent Wiering, to preserve the A’s shut out and better the host’s record to 6-13 overall.

As for Evans getting the nod out of ‘retirement’, it was a fluke he faced the Royals at all.

“He’s (Coach Karels) talked to me a lot this year, and I’ve had to tell him no, a lot, but my original plan was to come on Sunday for the Worthington game,” he said. “Worthington didn’t have enough (players), so we just postponed me pitching for a game. And like I said, we were all excited to come out to the park, so it’s wasn’t hard to say yes, this time.”

And having been one of the younger guys who made it his job to be at every game possible, Evans knows the importance of commitment to success in the summer.

“I sure hope they stick with it and continue to gel like tonight; as long as they’re coming to the games, they have a good chance to win,” Evans said. “Being on the team, you have to be on the team. I know it’s fun going to the lake and chasing the ladies, but when they’re all here, we’re a much better team. This team has the kids to do it, talent-wise, but they need to be at the park to show what they can do.”

Alfson finished the game 3-for-5 for the A’s, Musch was 2-for-3 with two RBI and Carson (3RBI) and Tinklenberg had a hit apiece for the hosts.

Ruthton second baseman Tylan Gylling was 3-for-3 for the Royals, while Zollner and Brayden Baartman each had a base knock on the night.

Royals            000 000 000 – 0 5 5

Pipestone    002 030 00X – 5 7 1

Cubs 8, A’s 2

It was evident from the bottom of the first inning Thursday night in Worthington that the Cubs should have been called the Woodsmen, as the hosts used a pair of infield ‘choppers’ to help them forge a quick 3-0 lead over the visiting A’s – en route to claiming an 8-2 victory.

Half of the Cubs’ 10 hits in the tilt didn’t make it off the plush grass that either pumped the ball high into the air or gripped it like Velcro – giving the Pipestone defense little time to retrieve and throw. And combined with four defensive errors and a lone hit off the bat of Collin Moeller, the A’s weren’t ever close to claiming a game with playoff implications.

“They’re down too, a couple guys with broken arms,” said Karels, following Wednesday night’s shutout victory over the Royals. “It’s an important game for playoff seeding and beating them might just give us home-field advantage in the opening round. If we win, that pretty much secures that for us.”

Broken arms or not, the Cubs didn’t need to rely on more than one, in essence – that of starter Will Brandner.

Brandner fanned 10 A’s on the night, giving up one earned run on one hit. Though he walked six over seven innings on the bump, the crafty hurler had the A’s off-balance throughout his tenure.

The Cubs had their share of defensive woes as well, and a pair of errors combined with back-to-back walks of Moeller and Musch in the top of the fourth saw the A’s load the bases with one out. However, Brandner came back with a strikeout of Karels and coaxed shortstop Keegan O’Brien into popping up to his counterpart to quash the threat.

Trailing 5-0 entering the sixth, Moeller’s double to left pushed Tyler Rieck (walk) to third base. And an overthrow from catcher Jake Brandner to Will Brandner gave the A’s third baseman enough time to claim the plate.

Unfortunately for the A’s the Cubs managed to recoup the marker in the bottom of the inning and push another pair across the plate in the seventh to carry an 8-1 lead into the final frames.

The A’s worked the count against reliever Tate Gual to their advantage in the top of the eighth, gaining a run through walks and a wild pitch with Musch at third, but Brandner’s replacement settled down enough to close out the tilt for a welcomed home victory.

A’s starter Mike Friese threw well, well enough to keep things close had the infield had more practice time on the tricky turf. Of the Cubs 10 runs, only three were earned from their 10 hits. Friese finished with seven strikeouts as opposed to three walks in suffering the loss.

A’s                     000 001 010 – 2 1 4

Cubs            301 101 20X – 8 10 2

Redbirds 19, A’s 1

While the A’s managed to get a few youngsters to travel to Worthington for Thursday night’s road tilt, few were in attendance Sunday afternoon in Luverne where Pipestone’s Iron-9 did the best it could against the Gopher League-leading Redbirds (14-1).

Pitching by committee, with starter Austin Schelhaas only managing an inning, the A’s were never in the tilt. The Redbirds put up an eight-spot in the bottom of the first and tallied an additional three against O’Brien in the second.

The A’s lone marker came in top of the fourth via hits by Rieck (double) and O’Brien, and a sacrifice to center field off the bat of Schelhaas.

Otherwise, hits were hard to come by against Redbird starter Ben Serie, who gave up no runs on one hit, a Tinklenberg single, during his three-inning tenure.

The Redbirds plated six runs in the bottom of the fourth against Alfson, who despite nearly clearing the fence with a booming double to left in the top of the fifth, couldn’t prevent the tilt from going more than five frames.

The A’s are slated to conclude their regular-season schedule with a road game against the Pirates Sunday afternoon (2 p.m.) at Island Park in Windom.

A’s                                 000 10 – 1 4 2

Redbirds               832 6X – 19 9 1