Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hauck’s pitching, offensive outburst lead Lakeville to victory

It’s been a rough go thus far for the Lakeville Athletics this season. The team entered June having been rained out three times and losing all four of the games they did play.

On Saturday, the team welcomed near-perfect, low 80s, sunny weather and a winless Rosemount team to its Lakville South home field. But while the climate improved, Lakeville’s gloomy trend did not, as the Black Sox defeated the Athletics 11-6.

On Sunday, however, the sixth time was the charm for Lakeville. Two-time Cannon Valley League All-Star Jake Hauck threw six strong innings and the Athletics broke out the bats for 13 hits in achieving its first win of the season, defusing the Westside Bombers 9-2.

“I’m just really getting back into the swing of baseball, these college guys got a leg up with the season they play,” the veteran, 29-year-old Hauck said. “It was good, I just got out there and threw strikes today and once our bats get going like they did today, it takes the pressure off me.”

Hauck was a craftsmen on the mound. The wily righthander carved up seven Bombers batters, including four of whom went down looking.

“We were inconsistent [today], starting at the plate,” Westside manager David McDonald said of his Eden Prairie-based ballclub. “The effort was good, but we need to make the plays in the field and swing the bat; too many strikeouts looking.”

The at-bat that seemed to epitomize Hauck’s day came in the fourth inning.

Westside’s Blake Carlson was at the plate, hoping to drive in Bryan Szmergalski (who was at third base) for the team’s first run. With two outs and a two-strike, one-ball count, Carlson fouled off a hard fastball on the outer side of the plate to keep his at-bat alive. Carlson took the next pitch for ball two. The next pitch was pure filth, as Hauck threw a nasty slider to stun Carlson for strike three.

The pitch started well off of the plate as it came toward the right-handed Carlson, who reacted by backing away from the plate. But before he knew it, the ball darted inward, found the edge of the strike zone and the umpire called strike three. It left Carlson to pause for a moment, as a “did that just happen” look came upon his face.

“It’s my slider that I was throwing today,” Hauck said, regarding his strikeout performance. “I don’t throw as hard as I used to, but when I got the slider and I can throw it for strikes, I feel pretty good about it.”

Hauck’s performance came on the heels of a rough outing Wednesday, May 25 at Elko - in a game Hauck was tabbed as the starter but felt he couldn't make it due to tightness in his throwing arm. Despite the pain, he entered that game as a reliever; and he struggled mightily, allowing walks to his first four batters as part of an 8-0 loss to the Express.

Thus Sunday was a welcomed sight for both him and the team.

Hauck was healthy and threw very well. The defense played error-free baseball behind him. And, offensively, nine different Athletics recorded hits as part of a season-high nine runs scored.

“Everyone was hitting today,” shortstop Max Shower said. “A lot of hits. Lots of hits. It was a good day at the ballpark.”

Shower led the Lakeville bats with three hits on the day. The Athletics lead-off hitter manufactured and scored the game’s first run - hitting a chopper up the middle for an infield hit, and swiping both second and third base before scoring on a bloop single to left. Shower later contributed two more singles, drew a walk and scored two more runs.

In the second inning, the Athletics wore down Westside starting pitcher Justin Ruud, making 11 plate appearances and scoring six runs.

Derek Hahn began the barrage by pounding a Ruud offering to deep right field for a double.

The next two Athletics batters benefited from a pair of errors. Westside shortstop Travis Zenda fielded a routine ground ball and airmailed it over his first baseman’s head to allow Mark Berger to reach base. Zenda’s gaffe was followed by Bombers second baseman Jason Thompson on the next play as he dropped a can of corn in shallow right to allow Jeff Farr to reach base and Hahn to score.

Ruud retired his next batter, Eric Watts, on a fly ball to left that should have ended the inning. Instead, the Athletics took advantage of the Bombers' gaffes and Watts was able to earn an RBI with Berger scoring on the play.

Ruud then began to break down - as is often the case when a pitcher’s defense gives the opposition extra outs. The Westside hurler beaned Lakeville’s No. 9 hitter, Justin Hahn, and walked Shower.

Then came the killer blow of the inning. With the bases loaded, Athletics third baseman Eddie Golom pounded a Ruud offering deep into the left-center gap to score three runs.

Lakeville scored one more run (a single to right by Kevin George scored Golom), before Ruud was able to retire Derek Hahn and Berger to end the inning.

All in all, the Athletics put up a 6-spot in the second, giving Hauck a comfortable lead.

Hauck stayed in his groove, finishing his fine outing with the seven strikeouts, one walk and three hits allowed (all singles).

John Degerness pitched the seventh and eighth, allowing three hits and a run.

Collin Baker - who initially entered the game at first base in place of Josh Storm - finished the game on the mound, but not before he supplied one final firework for the Lakeville offense.

Combined with his substitute performance in Saturday’s game, Baker had a strikeout, reached on an error and was beaned twice - including in the sixth inning Sunday by Westside reliever Geno Larkin.

In the eighth, Baker faced Larkin again. This time, the hefty righthander delivered him a pair of fastballs. Baker swung wildly at the first one, but he got the best of Larkin on the second.

“Both [pitches] were straight down the middle in pretty much the same spot," Baker said. "The first one, I was in front of it and took a chop at it. So [on] that next swing, I sat back and let ‘er rip.”

Baker silenced the crowd with an absolute rocket to left, pelting the fence about a foot short leaving the park. In fact, several spectators - himself included - thought it was a homer.

“Yeah, I definitely probably should have been running a lot harder rounding first base,” Baker said, admitting he thought he knocked it out.

Instead of a homer, Baker ended up loafing into second with a double. The shot was pretty impressive nonetheless. The contact sounded like it hit the sweet spot squarely. In fact, without a brisk breeze that was blowing in from left field it most likely would have left the yard.

In any regard, Baker put a very nice swing on it. Especially considering the stark contrast compared to his swing on the first pitch, as well as some swings he took against Rosemount on Saturday. Baker had all the good reason to be pleased with his effort.

“It felt nice smoothing out the bat,” Baker said. “ That was a nice swing. I hadn’t swung in awhile so I’m glad to get my first hit.”

Baker said he’s primarily been a pitcher and hadn’t swung the bat much recently. So it was quite the way for him to get his first hit of the season.

Besides the first hit, Baker’s ninth-inning pitching appearance was the first time he’s taken the mound for the Athletics this season.

He allowed one hit, one walk and no runs in one inning of work. He also had two strikeouts.

Overall, Baker said he was happy with his first outing but also hopes to sharpen his skills as the season moves forward. Moreover, he’s happy with the team’s performance and how competitive the Athletics are capable of being.

“It looks like [with] that lineup we had tonight, and with that infield [defense], we could be pretty tough,” he said.

The Athletics travel to Rochester tonight for its next contest. Lakeville then returns to conference play on Saturday, with a home game against the Eagan Bandits.

**I was the PA for this game, the writer of this recap story and photographer of the three post-game photos.
**The game photos were contributed by Tim Watts
Descriptions of the photos from top-to-bottom are as follows: Lakeville starting pitcher Jake Hauck, Hauck pitching, Lakeville shortstop Max Shower, Lakeville first baseman and relief pitcher Collin Baker, Baker pitching.

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