Panthers claw back

MINNEOTA – Tracy-Milroy-Balaton baseball coach Bill Tauer knew his team would come back as soon as his players returned to the dugout after the sixth inning Thursday night.

The Panthers had led for most of the night and were up 6-2 on the Minneota/Lincoln HI Vikings entering the bottom of the sixth, when Minneota struck for five runs on five hits to jump in front of the Panthers 7-6. After relief pitcher Beau Priegnitz struck out Tyler Buysse to end the inning, Tauer said that his team came in from the field with the exact look he was hoping to see.

“They came in after that sixth inning after Minneota had come back and the guys did not hang their heads at all,” Tauer said. “They came in and we said ‘We’re alright, get us some base runners and we can make some things happen.’ That’s what we did.”

The Panthers plated three runs in the top of the seventh, including a game-tying suicide squeeze, to take a 9-7 lead and held on for the Camden Conference win.

“We got some guys on base and we executed our suicide, which we work on a bit,” Tauer said. “It was a nice bunt just to get it tied. That kind of took the momentum away from them a little bit, then we got some timely hits which is the key to baseball. It’s all about getting guys on base and getting timely hits.”

Jordan Lanoue scored on the squeeze, with Gavin Van Moer laying down the bunt to start the rally. Priegnitz scored the go ahead run on a Brian Fultz single, while Fultz scored the insurance run as the result of a throwing error.

Priegnitz got the Vikings to go three up, three down to end the game. After being in line for the loss, Priegnitz recorded the win, allowing two runs two hits and striking out three in 1 2/3 innings pitched. Not bad for a freshman in a high pressure situation, according to Tauer.

“That’s the hard thing, to come in with the tying run on base,” Tauer said. “That’s a tough situation, but he came in and as a freshman he handles himself really well. That last inning things got tough, but he got us through it.”

Isaac Josephson, who was 1-for-3 with a two-run single in the sixth, took the loss for the Vikings. The senior hurler was tagged for nine runs on 10 hits with six strikeouts and pitched all seven innings.

“As the game went on and we were coming back, he wanted the ball,” said Minneota/Lincoln HI head coach Keven Larson. “As a senior, that’s what you want to see. I wasn’t going to take the ball out of his hands. Late in the game when they got a couple runs back, we were still hitting the ball well and could have changed things in the last inning.”

None of the Panthers’ 10 hits were for extra bases, though it was the volume that impressed Tauer.

“We have not hit the ball well as a team,” he said. “We’re starting to come. We’ve been trying to get to double-digit hits on a consistent basis. It’s good to see and it builds confidence, you get those hits and it builds confidence.”

The Vikings (1-5 overall, 1-4 Camden) also may have built some confidence moving forward, despite falling short in the contest.

“We’re starting to come together a little bit and get a little more comfortable,” Larson said. “You can tell. It’s contagious too, a couple guys get hits and the other guys see it and think that everybody can put something together.

“It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t pull it out,” he added. “It’s nice to see that, but we’ve got a tough stretch. We have so many games back to back to back. It’s the end of the school year so it’s tough to stay focused for the kids, but they were focused tonight.”

Though the Vikings only committed two errors, the Panthers were able to take advantage of some other miscues to build a 5-0 lead after three innings. Spotting their opponents an early lead has become commonplace for the Vikings, and it is something that Larson was hoping would end on Thursday.

“It’s kind of been what’s happening the whole year, where we give away two or three runs early and then can’t come back,” he said. “Tonight the difference was we gave them away early and then came back. You tip your cap because (TMB) earned it, but you give away five runs early in the game and that’s the difference.”

Helping keep the Vikings off the board in the early going was Tayler Carlson. The TMB sophomore made his first varsity start for the Panthers, receiving a no decision after five complete innings. Carlson allowed two runs on three hits and five walks, while fanning three.

“That’s his first varsity start and he’s only a sophomore, too,” Tauer said. “We’re getting down there this week with our third game, so we went with the sophomore. We know he can pitch, he’s done well in the bullpen for us. This was his opportunity to show that he can play at the varsity level, and I think he did that tonight.

“We thought he was getting up there a bit in pitch count, and with it being his first time out we didn’t want to push it,” Tauer added of the decision to change pitchers to start the sixth. “We thought we had a comfortable lead so we pulled him, and sometimes that backfires on you. But to our credit, we stuck with it and finished it off.”

Brian Fultz was 3-for-3 with four runs scored and two RBIs, including the game winner, on Thursday, while teammate Austin Gleis ended the day 3-for-4 and drove in two runs as well.

Austin Buysse was 2-for-4 for the Vikings and had a two-run double to give Minneota the lead in the sixth.

The Vikings return to competition today to host a non-conference game against Ortonville. TMB (7-2, 5-2), meanwhile, travels to Adrian on Saturday for a game against the Dragons.