Saturday, August 31, 2013

Greyhounds let win slip through their grasp

Victory was in their grasp.

The Greyhounds had a 6-3 lead and a boatload of momentum heading into the bottom of the eighth. Pitcher Joe Huffman had just retired his 11th straight batter. Then new life began for the Bandits as Eagan’s next hitter, first baseman Mark Tatera, drilled a home run to right.
Austin 2B Joe Kroc

“In hindsight that solo home run wasn’t that big [at the time],” second baseman Joe Kroc said. ” But it ended up being really big, because all of the momentum went in their favor after that.”

Eagan fed off that home run and Austin crumbled. The Bandits took advantage of two Greyhounds errors, scored four runs in the eighth and held on for a 7-6 victory Friday night at Irish Stadium in Maple Lake.

The loss eliminated Austin (25-11) from the Class B tournament, effectively ending its season as well.

“It sucks,” shortstop John Frien said about the loss. “We had momentum most of [the game], I felt. But [Eagan] took it from us. They’re a good hitting team, they got their bats going, they put the ball in play and they took advantage of it.”

Despite a slow start for the Greyhounds, Austin compiled 14 hits on the night. But it was the late
errors that proved costly in the end; including a play in the Frein wishes he could have back.

Down by one with one out and the bases loaded in the eighth, Eagan’s Derek Dietrich hit a grounder to second. Kroc fielded the ball cleanly and retired the runner at second, but Frien’s throw to first sailed to the right and two runs came in for Eagan. Suddenly Austin’s 6-3 advantage had evaporated, as Eagan took the lead.

“It was a big situation, we needed the double play,” Frein said. “I just maybe hurried [the throw]. I thought I had to hurry, the guy was flying down the line. It felt good out of my hand, but it just kept fading, fading, fading.”
Infield practice: C Matt Raso (27), RP Zach Schara (19)
Irish Stadium - Maple Lake, MN

Until then, Frein was having a great night. The 35-year-old veteran showed some strong legwork. He beat out a bunt single in the first, had another infield hit later and stole a base in the game. Frien also beat out a double play ball in the fifth to begin an Austin attack.

The Greyhounds had nothing going offensively, nothing. But with Frien on second and one out, Kroc stepped up to the plate and lit a spark in under his team’s feet. Kroc roped a single to right, scoring Frein and giving the Austin faithful some hope.

Following Kroc’s hit, third baseman/manager Matt Cano drilled a ball off the fence in right-center, scoring Kroc and tying the game at three.

Austin’s momentum really took off from there. In the top of the eighth, Kroc made a play the really energized the team. He stole home to give Austin a three-run lead.

“There’s two outs late in the game and we had a lead, we had them on their heels and I wanted to be aggressive,” Kroc said. “I saw earlier that [the catcher] was just lobbing it back [to the pitcher] without looking at third. So I got a bigger primary lead, a walking lead and then took a chance and it worked out in our favor.”

Kroc finished the game 2-for-4 with two runs scored and the rare feat of a steal of home.

“When he stole home, that was a big deal,” Frien said of Kroc’s play. “I thought we had [the game] won there.”

Unfortunately the bottom of the eighth came and the Austin victory was just not meant to be.

Eagan 7, Greyhounds 6
Greyhounds  1 0 0 0 2 0 1 2 0
Eagan …...... 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 4 x
Greyhounds: Joe Kroc 2-for-4, 2 R, 1 RBI, SB; Matt Cano 2-for-5, 1 2B, 1 R, 1 RBI; Craig Braaten 3-for-4, 2 RBI, 1 BB; Matt Raso 2-for-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB; John Frein 2-for-3, 2 R, 1 SB, 2 BB; Starter: Joe Huffman 7.1 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 5 K.
Eagan Bandits: Tatera 2-for-4, 1 HR, 2 R, 1 RBI; Larson 3-for-4, 1 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI; Dietrich 1-for-2, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 SB, 1 BB, 1 HBP; Starter: Neil Kunik 6 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 6 BB, 1 K; Save: Larson 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 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 Friday, Aug. 30 2013 at Irish Stadium in Maple Lake, Minn.

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