Saturday, August 30, 2014

Orphans' stellar season ends at state, with loss to host Jordan


By Jeff Barthel

It was a fantastic season for the Howard Lake Orphans.

After claiming its region’s No. 3 seed, winning its first two state tournament games and compiling a 22-4 record, there were a lot of optimistic Orphans fans arriving for the team’s game at Mini Met stadium this morning in Jordan.

Unfortunately, mere minutes into the game, those Howard Lake hopes were harder to come by.

Through one-half inning of play, the tournament host Jordan Brewers (32-9) led the Howard Lake Orphans 8-0. Howard Lake fought back a few innings later to get it to 8-2. But it was just too insurmountable of a lead to come back from.

One week after leading Howard Lake past a tough Waconia team, Orphans ace pitcher Adam Koch was knocked out of today’s game before it ever got going – allowing eight earned runs and retiring just one Brewers batter.

Howard Lake manager Mike Gagnon (#10, right) leads a postgame huddle
“He’s had a great year, an outstanding season,” Orphans manager Mike Gagnon said of Koch. “For whatever reason, he just didn’t have it today.”

Jordan won the game 10-2, thereby ending the Orphans run and advancing to the elite eight of the 2014 Class C amateur baseball state tournament.

Gagnon said he felt great after Koch retired Jordan lead-off hitter Joe Lucas.

Gagnon said Lucas – Jordan’s star player, who leads the Brewers with a whopping .448 batting average, 29 stolen bases and 49 runs – was a key force he knew his team had to stop today. So he was thrilled to limit Lucas’ damage to 0-for-3 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch.

“If someone told me we kept the [Lucas] off the bases all but one time,  I’d say we’d have a good chance to win,” Gagnon said. “But it was just not meant to be.”

Koch, who was 7-1 with a 1.43 ERA in the Northstar League this year, could not locate his pitches today. Following the game-opening Lucas groundout, the game unraveled in a hurry.

The next nine Brewers hitters reached base – five base hits and four hit batsmen. Koch was pulled from the game after he beaned Lucas the second time he faced him.

Howard Lake kept alive after the early damage as relief pitcher Adam Gregg – a draftee from Maple Plain – kept Brewers bats at bay.

Gregg allowed just two hits and one walk in six and two-thirds innings.
Howard Lake reliever Adam Gregg - a draftee of Maple Plain

But while Gregg was cruising, the Orphans offense struggled.

Jordan starting pitcher Trent Bohnsack had pinpoint control of his pitches, using the umpire’s penchant for the outside strike to his advantage.

“[Bohnsack] did a fantastic job,” Orphans second baseman Luke Gagnon said, “getting the leadoff guy out, throwing strikes, I’m not sure how many free passes we had but it was very few.”

“He had a nice fastball and he located really well. The umpire gave him a couple inches on the outside and he hit it.”

Whether by swing or by call, Bohnsack stretched the outside of the plate to a tee – of the 20 outs he recorded, he retired 11 on strikeouts. At 37 years of age, the wily Jordan veteran had no walks today either.

Howard Lake bats were able to lay some lumber on the ball eventually. After five scoreless frames, Howard Lake came up with a run in the sixth.

Yearning for something to cheer for, with one out and a runner on first, designated hitter Jason Mix ignited Orphans fans by belting a double to deep right-center.

Following Mix, Bohnsack lost control off a 0-2 pitch and hit Steve Boger to load the bases with one out. Up came Orphans third baseman Chris Hardie, who hammered a pitch to right.

Hardie’s fly was caught, but the ball was hit well enough to bring home John Steuven to score Howard Lake’s first run. That would be it, however. A foul pop out to first left two runners on base and the score was 8-1 through six.

Orphans SS Luke Gagnon, at second after doubling in the 7th
In the seventh inning, Howard Lake had another chance to rally. Luke Gagnon, who doubled off the left field wall in the third, cracked a two-out double off the fence in right. Teammate Eric Schreifels followed suit with a double of his own and the score was 8-2 Jordan.

Schreifels' double not only knocked in Gagnon, it knocked out Bohnsack. Brewers reliever Dillon Lee entered the game in Bohnsack’s place. Lee promptly walked his first batter – Stueven – and up came Mix again.

Hoping for another double, the Orphans five-hitter bounced a grounder to third this time. The ball was bobbled, however, as Jordan third baseman Alex Beckman could not come up with it cleanly and the rally was alive.

The bases were loaded now, as Boger arrived at the plate for Howard Lake. Boger offered on the first pitch from Lee and grounded to third as well. This time, however, Beckman handled it, as the rally was stymied and three more Orphans runners were left stranded.

“The first three at-bats I had been getting down in the count, watching some pitches I felt were outside and a little tough to get after,” Boger said, describing his approach on the at-bat. “[This time] I told myself if it was right down the middle, first pitch, the bases loaded and I could give our team a shot, I’d take a hack at it.”

“Unfortunately I topped it,” he said. “But I was trying to go down aggressive at least and not get down in the count again, especially when we needed some runs.”

The final two innings went down rather quietly. Howard Lake was retired in order in the eighth. The Brewers added a pair of runs in the ninth and the game finished up as an eight-run loss.

It was an impressive season for the Orphans nonetheless. One both manager Gagnon and six-year veteran Boger were very proud of.

“I told the guys we had an excellent season,” Gagnon said. “One game does not make a season, and we had a good season.

“It was probably the best chemistry, best team we’ve had in a long time,” Boger said, proud of both  his team’s season as a whole and how it fought through the first two rounds of the tournament.

“We played hard every week, had a great group of guys playing hard every week," he said. "We had a great game against Waconia, won a close game 3-2, a team that we were underdogs against coming into. So it was fun to go in there and get a win in the second round and keep on going …”

Prior to today’s loss to Jordan, Howard Lake defeated Montevideo 5-0 Aug. 15 in round one. On Aug. 23, the team upset Section 7 top-seed Waconia 3-2, led by five and two-thirds strong innings from Koch.

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