Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lakeville battery powers Athletics to victory

An unexpected pitcher and his catcher performed like a well-charged battery last night for the Lakeville Athletics at Eagan’s Goat Hill Park.

Utility player Mark Berger threw five strong innings in relief and brawny backstop Derek Hahn homered as the Athletics eked out a dramatic 3-2 win over the host Bandits.

“It’s been quite a while since I’ve pitched,” remarked Berger after the game, “but it was definitely one of the better outings I've had so it felt good to be out there and do that.”

Behind the pitching of Berger and starter Trevor Larson, the Lakeville bats could not get much going offensively early on. Eagan’s starting pitcher, Jon Hansen, did not surrender a hit until the fifth.

The game was tightly fought as the score was tied at 2-2 entering the ninth, where two walks and a single set up the Athletics for a zany play at home for the game-winning run.

The first inning started with Hansen opposing Larson on the mound and both pitchers had their stuff working.

Hansen and Larson each tossed a quick first inning, then Eagan’s Ryan Sward led off the top of the second - yes, that is correct, top of the second (this game, though at Eagan, was technically a Lakeville home game as it was a make-up for a rain out on June 5, see below article for further explanation) - with a rocket to left over leftfielder Eric Watts’ right shoulder for a double.

Sward would be stranded, however, as Larson would get Eagan’s 4-5-6 batters on a flyout and two strikeouts to end the Bandits’ second frame.

In the third, Larson retired the first two Eagan batters but the Bandits’ Jon Bauer drew a four-pitch walk and would eventually score the game’s first run.

Tony Johnson followed Bauer’s walk with a chopper to Athletics shortstop Derek Jacobson, which Jacobson scooped up cleanly but delivered a low throw that scooted by first baseman Justin Hahn for an error. Bauer advanced to third on the play and he’d later score on a stolen base attempt.

With two outs and Eagan’s Roy Larson at the plate, Johnson took off for second but Athletics pitcher Larson stepped off the mound and threw to second baseman Jim Gaylord. However, as Johnson slid in at second at the same moment Gaylord tried to catch it and swipe him, the ball kicked away from Gaylord's glove and the ump ruled the Eagan base-runner safe for a stolen base. Meanwhile, Bauer easily advanced from third to crossed home plate and put the Bandits ahead.

In the top of the fourth was when Berger was called upon to replace Trent Larson as Larson’s performance was abbreviated to conserve his arm for the upcoming playoffs. And despite having not pitched since June 6 not only did Berger accept the task but the crafty righthander handled it with guile and fortitude.

Berger allowed a lead-off single to Sward, who lined a low strike to left, but the Athletics’ super-utility man would settle into a groove after that. Berger - who has played six positions this season and all nine throughout his Lakeville career -induced a double-play ball from the next hitter, Tatera, then proceeded to retire six straight Bandit batters.

Meanwhile, after Eagan's pitcher, Hansen, retired his pitching counterpart, Berger, on a tapper back to the mound to end the fourth, Hansen had been equally - if not more - impressive than Berger as he was perfect through four innings.

In the top of the fifth, Berger would have some adversity to face - albeit to little of his own fault. A one-out broken bat single by Eagan's Derek Dietrich was followed by two errors from the Lakeville infield to put Berger in a one-out bases loaded bind.

However, the tenth-year Athletics player rose to the challenge as Berger was able to get Johnson to bounce into a third-to-catcher force out, then retire Eagan’s dangerous three-hole hitter, Roy Larson, on a flyout to center to escape the inning unscathed.

In the sixth, the Lakeville offense finally broke through against Hansen.

Hansen had finished five innings allowing just one hit and facing the minimum, but Lakeville’s Justin Hahn led off the sixth by slamming a 2-0 fastball deep to right center, just out of the reach of right fielder Dietrich’s outstretched glove.

Eric Watts followed with a sacrifice bunt, then nine-hitter John Degerness delivered the Athletics’ first run with a shallow fly to right that landed about a foot inside the foul line.

Hansen would get Lakeville’s Jacobson to hit into a fielder’s choice, then retired Jim Gaylord on a one-hopper back to him on the mound to end the inning, but the Degerness RBI-hit tied the score at one run apiece.

In the seventh, Hansen was lifted for similar reasons that Lakeville Larson was relieved for as Bandits reliever Tom Jaede took to the mound.

Jaede was able to retire Jon Gaylord on a hard liner to left, but the new Eagan pitcher was not as fortunate against Lakeville’s next batter, clean-up hitter Derek Hahn.

Hahn, Lakeville’s towering catcher, pounded a 2-2 offering from Jaede on to the parking lot pavement deep past the right field fence.

“I was down 0-2 and think [Jaede] was feeling pretty good, but I was still really confident,” said the 6-foot-4-inch Hahn about his home run at-bat, “I was able to get a pitch I could handle and knocked it out of the park.”

Hahn’s blast traveled an estimated 360 feet and put Lakeville ahead by one.

The lead would not last long, however, as Eagan’s Bauer led off the top of the eighth with double to right-center. He then scored two batters later on a double by Roy Larson.

With the score tied at two late into the game, this was when Berger (still pitching) really dug deep and persevered for his team out there on the mound.

Already having thrown far more pitches he anticipated, next up for Berger was Eagan’s clean-up hitter, Sward, who pounded two big doubles in Eagan’s 7-2 win at Lakeville this past Sunday.

The Bandits slugger was coming to the the plate with teammate Larson on second and one out. This time, however, Sward could not come through as Berger was able to get him to swing under a pitch and hit a harmless flyout to left field.

Berger then walked Tatera, but was able to get Brandon Paetznick to hit a ground ball to third to end the Eagan threat.

The score remained tied entering the bottom of the ninth when Lakeville’s Derek Jacobson took a 3-1 pitch from Jaede high to draw a lead-off walk.

Jim Gaylord followed with a sacrifice bunt to set up brother Jon Gaylord with the winning run in scoring position.

Jon hit a sharp grounder toward the hole in short that looked like it had a chance to get through but would be fielded successfully by Eagan’s Roy Larson. Gaylord’s hit was good for an infield single, however, and the Athletics threat continued to grow.

With runners on first and third, Jaede intentionally walked Derek Hahn, to load up the bases for Lakeville’s Trent Larson.

On a 2-1 count, Jaede delivered a fastball that apparently was a tad high in the home umpire’s eyes as it was called for a ball. Then, on 3-1, Larson laced a line drive medium-depth to right field.

While Jacobson tagged up from third, Eagan’s rightfielder, Dietrich, delivered a strong throw toward home. The ball was slightly off to catcher Tatera’s right but the throw had beat Jacobson; however, anticipating the collision, Tatera could not cleanly catch the ball and Jacobson managed to score ... barely.

The Athletics sliding-inept All-Star slid wide to the right and actually missed home plate, but Jacobson did recover in time to get up and touch home for the game-winning run.

“That was less than graceful,” said Berger, who was on-deck at the time, describing his scrappy teammate’s slide, “definitely no style point on that one.”

“It was quite a slide by Jacobson,” added Athletics assistant manager Tim Watts with a light chuckle, “I got that one on Kodak film so I’ll have to take a look at it again later tonight.”

The Athletics won the game and Jacobson actually not only scored the winning run but earned the win as a pitcher - facing five batters in throwing as scoreless top of the ninth.

But it was Berger who was the prime pitching star for Lakeville, throwing a season-high 64 pitches and frustrating Bandits batters by with enticing pitches.

“Most guys salivate when they get [to face] him on the mound,” said Eagan manager Billy Denet about his hitters batting against Berger, “I think that was part of our problem. I’m not trying to take anything away from him but but that ball looked pretty big up there and [he’d] get a lot of guys out in front and popping the ball up and rolling it over and he got outs, that’s what your supposed to do.”

“Berg did an outstanding job tonight,” remarked Watts, who was filling in for head skipper Doug Johnson, “he throws that good off-speed stuff and that’s what kept [Eagan] off balance.”
The loss dropped Eagan to 8-8 in Cannon Valley League games and 12-14 overall, while the win improved Lakeville to 5-12 in CVL play (9-15 overall) and gives them hope heading into the playoffs.

“It was definitely a big win,” said Berger, one of team’s elder statesmen, “it’s important to get some good momentum heading into the playoffs.”

Next up for Eagan will be a 7:30 contest tonight at Inver Grove Heights to conclude its regular season schedule. Berger’s Athletics have finished league play and will now prepare for their first game of the CVL playoffs, a 6:00 p.m. contest Sunday night versus the Elko Express.

The first CVL playoff game will be Sunday at 4:30 p.m. when the 2-seed Burnsville Bobcats play the 7th-seeded IGH Diamond Kings. All first round playoff games will be played from Sunday through Wednesday at Burnsville’s Alimagnet Park.

Notable individual efforts:
Lakeville Athletics
~ Mark Berger: 5 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 K, 1 BB
~ Derek Hahn: 2-for-3, HR, IBB, R, RBI
~ Trent Larson: 3 IP, 1 R (0 ER), 1 H, 2 Ks, 1 BB, game-winning Sac Fly

Eagan Wildcats:
~ Jon Hansen: 6 IP, 1 ER, 3 Hs, 2 Ks, 0 BBs
~ Ryan Sward: 2-for-4, 2B
~ Jon Bauer: 2-for-4, 2B, BB, 2 Rs

** Note: game was played at Eagan a June 5 Eagan @ Lakeville game was rained out and re-scheduled for last night. Lakeville has no lights on its home field, thus it was easier to schedule the make-up game at Eagan.

**Note: I covered this game as a reporter but only took photos after the game. Pictured in the photos - from top to bottom - are Lakeville's Mark Berger, Eagan's Jon Hansen and Lakeville's Derek Hahn. Also, thanks to Tim Watts, who provided the Lakeville team photo (which was shot after the Athletics shook hands with Eagan following the win).

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