Monday, August 26, 2013

Austin sizzles in onesided win

MAPLE LAKE — It was a low-90s scorcher and Austin's offense was on fire.

The Greyhounds began their Class B state tournament game Sunday against St. Michael red hot, erupting for seven first-inning runs.

"We stuck it to them early," manager/shortstop John Frein said. "It was really important to get up on top early."

Pitcher Joe Huffman took over from there. The righthander fed off his team's lead and went into cruise control, retiring St. Michael's first 16 batters en route to Austin's 10-2 victory over the Saints at Irish Stadium in Maple Lake.

"I just tried to go in there with my game plan," Huffman said. "I had all four pitches — fastball, curveball, slider, changeup — I just tried to attack the strike zone and make them get themselves out. They were pretty aggressive hitters."

Through the first two innings, Huffman induced six softly hit outs throwing only 15 pitches. In fact, he did not throw more than three pitches to a batter until the fourth.

In contrast, St. Michael starter Alan Frank threw 31 pitches before being excused by his manager with two outs in the first. The Greyhounds bludgeoned Frank for seven hits and seven runs (five earned), sending up 11 batters in Austin's home half of the first.

"We felt like yesterday we were pretty flat the whole day, so we came out storming (Sunday)," Frein said.

The early onslaught was a welcomed site for Frein's team after a stagnant offensive showing Saturday against Shakopee.

Austin lost its first game of the double-elimination tournament to the Indians 4-2. The team scored two runs on six hits — all singles — against Shakopee. Sunday, not only did the Greyhounds hammer out 13 hits, the team also exhibited a rare display of power. Five of the team's hits went for extra bases, including four home runs.

"We probably doubled our home runs on the year," Frien said. "We've had a few, not that many though."

The first clout came in the first inning, when Craig Braaten clubbed a three-run shot. Matt Cano, Tyler Leopold and Jeremy Williams each added solo shots later in the game.

Williams had a spectacular game. The center fielder was 2-for-5 at the plate, but it was a catch in center that really sparked his team.

With one out in the top of the fifth, Huffman struck out St. Michael's Alex Naasz, keeping his no-hitter intact for the moment. Then Saints designated hitter Brady Jacobs stepped into the batter's box. Jacobs promptly blasted Huffman's first pitch deep to dead center, where Williams hauled in a spectacular catch against the fence.

"From contact, I knew it was going to be a good shot. So I just turned around and just starting running as fast as I can," Williams said. "When I finally tracked it, my leftfielder told me I had [enough] room and I knew I could get it."

Williams caught the ball and immediately planted face-first into the wall. After flattened like a pancake, he fell straight to the ground. It took a couple seconds, but Williams got up and his team roared from its dugout, shouting cheers of adulation for its brave centerfielder.

No one could have been happier about the play than Huffman.

"Go get it, baby! Go get it! That's what was going through my head," Huffman said. "He's (going) full speed going into that wall. I was worried because he came back off that wall a little dazed and confused there. I was just hoping he was okay after that."

Williams was just fine. He had no reservations laying out for his teammate. Usually when a team's up 9-0 in the fifth, Williams agreed he might take a different approach to a play that dangerous. But this was a special circumstance and he was determined not to let that hit fall.

"I just knew I had to catch it, because I wanted to keep (Huffman's) no-hitter going," Williams said. "So by all means I did my best to try to catch it."

Following the catch, Huffman retired the next hitter on a pop-up to second. Fifteen up, fifteen down. Huffman was perfect through five innings.

Huffman lost the perfect game as St. Michael's Mike Freske drew a walk with one out in the sixth. He responded, though, retiring the next two Saints batters to remain hitless through six.

In top of the seventh, however, things would unravel for the Austin hurler.

Saints pinch-hitter Jared Dehmer led off the inning and slashed the first pitch he saw into the right-field gap to break up the no-hitter. Huffman retired the next batter. But St. Michael struck again, as Naasz and Blaine Barthel blistered back-to-back doubles to post a pair of Saints runs.

The no-hitter and shutout were lost, but Huffman's performance was not. The heat may have caught up with him, but the third-year veteran finished with seven solid innings — allowing three hits, with five strikeouts and one walk.

"Huffman was outstanding," Frein said.

Weston Hanson came on in relief. St. Michael gave him a brief scare after a pair of Austin errors and an infield single loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth. However, Hanson responded with a strikeout and a double play to finish the inning unscathed. He then followed that up with a 1-2-3 ninth to end the game.

Austin survived St. Michael and a muggy, excessively hot day. Now it advances to next week for a new opponent and a possibly even hotter day.

"It's hot out there and everyone's drained," Frein said. "Our team needs a break. We need this week off, so we're going to hit the ice baths."

Austin (25-10) continues its quest for its first state title in 10 years when it faces the Eagan Bandits on Friday in Maple Lake. The Greyhounds defeated Eagan 4-3 on Aug. 16 in super section play at Austin's Marcusen Park.

Greyhounds 10, St. Michael 2
Saint Michael#000#000#200#—#2#4#2
St. Michael: Alex Naasz 1-for-4, 2B, R, RBI; Jared Dehmer 1-for-2, 2B, R; Blaine Barthel 1-for-3, 2B, R, RBI; LP: Alan Frank 0.2 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 0 K
Greyhounds: Andy Swank 2-for-3, R, RBI; Jeremy Williams 2-for-5, HR, 2 R, RBI; Matt Cano 2-for-2, HR, BB, 2 R, 2 RBI; Craig Braaten 1-for-3, HR, R, 3 RBI; Tyler Leopold 1-for-4, HR, 2 R, RBI; WP: Joe Huffman 7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K

**I wrote this story for the Rochester Post-Bulletin and Austin Post-Bulletin. It's coverage of the 2013 Class B state tournament on Sunday, Aug. 25 2013 at Irish Stadium in Maple Lake, Minn.
**I shot and submitted the photos for the Post-Bulletin as well. Descriptions (cutlines) for the photos (from top-to-bottom) are as follows: 
- Joe Huffman delivers a pitch in the sixth inning, while third-baseman Matt Cano (23) looks on. Huffman took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning.
- The Austin dugout greets teammate Tyler Leopold after his fifth-inning home run. Leopold hit one of four home runs on the day for the Greyhounds. 

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