Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Elko vet pitchers school Lakeville bats, lead Express to second round

Like a fine bottle of wine, baseball players also tend to get better with age.

Last night, Elko veteran pitchers Brian Muell and Rob Brick demonstrated their wisdom and craftiness as they led the Express to a 7-3 win over the Lakeville Athletics at Burnsville’s Alimagnet Park.

“I threw the ball well early and felt pretty good,” said 34-year-old Muell, who pitched a shutout through five innings last night. “The older I get, the less velocity I have so I use my other stuff, [but] the curveball’s my best pitch anyway.”

Muell’s slow, but hard-breaking curve had Lakeville batters off-balance for much of the night. The Athletics strung some hits together against him in the sixth, but overall Muell threw 7 1/3 strong innings before Elko’s 35-year-old reliever - Brick - came in to close things out in the eighth and ninth.

The win sealed up a trip home for the Express this weekend when the second round of the Section 5B playoffs are played at Elko’s Frederickson Field.

For Lakeville, the loss last night - following Sunday night’s 3-2 loss to Elko - means the team was swept in its best-of-three playoff series against the Express and its season is over.

“We were prepared for this,” said Athletics manager Doug Johnson following the loss, “Elko’s tough, we always play good games with them, but they’re better than us right now.”

“Elko’s a really good team,” added Lakeville third baseman Jim Gaylord, “I think they’re going to go pretty far in the playoffs, they’re pretty tough competitors.”

Jim and his brother, Jon Gaylord, did their share of damage last night, in helping Lakeville not go down without a fight, but, most of their Athletics teammates had difficulties hitting Muell and Brick’s pitching.

The game started with Jake Hauck pitching for Lakeville and pitching very well. Hauck made it through the fourth inning having only allowed a pair of singles while striking out Elko’s 2-3-4 hitters his first time through the Express lineup.

However, in the fifth inning, a two-out single by Elko’s nine-hitter, Corey Grisim, led to a meltdown on the mound for Hauck.

Express lead-off hitter Jeremy Chlan followed up Grisim’s single with a double to left-center to put runners at second and third.

Then, still with two outs and a scoreless tie, the same 2-3-4 hitters Hauck struck out earlier were able to hit the Lakeville starter pretty hard this time.

Elko second baseman Kyle Kalina hit single to right to score two, Dylan Thomas creamed a triple to the right-center gap to drive in Kalina, and Jason Grimm laced a solid single to right to score Thomas.

“[Hauck] just got a little tired out there and left a couple of sliders up,” said Johnson of his starting pitcher. “We’re trying to get that nine-guy (Grisim), then they’ve got about three or four hitters in the middle of thier lineup that we have trouble against.”

After Express five-hitter Ash Larsen delivered the key two-run blow with a double in the eighth inning to beat Lakeville on Sunday night, it was the three hitters in front of Larsen who wreaked havoc against Johnson’s Athletics last night.

Elko’s Kalina, Thomas and Grimm combined for 5 hits in 10 at-bats - reaching base 10 times - with 3 runs scored, 3 stolen bases and 5 RBI.

The Express followed up its four runs in the fifth by adding two more in the top of the sixth innning to run its lead to 6-0.

But Lakeville’s Gaylord brothers responded in the bottom of the sixth as the Athletics attempted to creep back into the game.

After a Derek Jacobson single to begin the inning, Jim Gaylord lined a double down the left field line. Jon followed his brother with a solid single to left to score Jacobson, but, on Muell’s very next pitch he was able to induce a double play from Lakeville clean-up hitter Derek Hahn to stymie the Athletics threat as the bases were suddenly empty with two outs.

Jim Gaylord scored from third on the Hahn grounder but Johnson would have liked to have seen his team score a couple more runs there.

“We could’ve used one more good hit that inning,” remarked the Lakeville skipper, “try to get it to 6-to-4 and then it’s a game.”

The Gaylords struck again in the eighth as Jim slashed a single to right, which chased Muell from the game, and Jon hit a sacrifice fly to left off reliever Brick, but that would be all for Lakeville as Brick struck out three of the final five Athletics hitters to preserve Elko’s victory.

Lakeville will take the rest of the summer off and try to regroup for its 2011 campaign while Elko will likely face the Burnsville Bobcats in the second round of the playoffs Sunday at 5:00 p.m.

Notable individual efforts:
~ Brian Muell: W, 7.1 IP, 6 Hs, 3 ERs, 6 Ks, 1 BB
~ Rob Brick: 1.2 IP, 0 Rs, 0 Hs, 3 Ks, 1 BB
~ Kyle Kalina: 1-for-2, 2 Rs, 2 RBI, 2 BBs, HBP, SB
~ Dylan Thomas: 2-for-4, 3B, R, RBI, BB, SB
~ Jason Grimm: 2-for-4, 2 RBI, HBP, SB

~ Jim Gaylord: 2-for-4, 2B, R
~ Jon Gaylord: 1-for-2, 2 RBI, BB, Sac Fly

**Note: I was the PA for this game and took very few game photos. However, I did conduct postgame interviews and take photos of three of the game’s best players (Brain Muell, Jim and Jon Gaylord). The pictures featured in this story are - from top to bottom - Brian Muell, Corey Grisim high fiving Jeremy Chlan after Kyle Kalina’s two-run single, Jim and Jon Gaylord. The original photo of Grisim and Kalina was shot by Savage Outlaws pitcher / infielder Tony Peterson, the final cut seen in this article is after I cropped the photo by centering it and zooming in.

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