Searching for their ‘O’

MARSHALL – After being no hit in their season opener against Tracy on Monday, the Marshall VFW Orange team took the field on Thursday in search of both the season’s first win and its first hit. The hit came, on a ground ball through the right side of the infield, but the win did not as Marshall Orange fell to Sacred Heart 3-2 at Southwest Minnesota State University’s Alumni Field.

“It was a lot better. It was fun to watch and I think the kids enjoyed it more,” Marshall Orange head coach Tanner Neale said. “Half of it is just getting out there and seeing pitching again. It was maybe a little easier to hit today.

“They stroked it a few times,” Neale added of his batters. “It just shows that once someone gets a hit it’s easy to follow suit, and that’s what they did.”

Blaise Andries split the first and second basemen with a grounder with two outs in the bottom of the fourth for Orange’s first hit this summer, while the team scattered four hits total in the game. Orange also drew five walks, though four errors on defense spoiled their improved approach at the plate.

A pair of errors in the top of the fourth allowed Sacred Heart to plate two unearned runs off of Orange starter Mitchell Pauling.

Hayden Johnson, who led off the inning by reaching on an error, scored from third on a dropped fly ball in center field with one out. Nick Fischer hit a dribbler down to first base for an out, but did bring home a run for Sacred Heart.

Pauling got out of the inning one batter later when Marshall catcher Matt VanKeulen made a sliding catch on a pop fly just in front of the backstop. Giving up just one hit, Pauling took a no-decision allowing just two unearned runs on two walks and two strikeouts over four innings. John Botsford pitched the final three innings for Marshall, taking the loss.

“It was good, they attacked them. That’s what we asked them to do,” Neale said of his pitchers. “Throw some strikes, see what they can do with it and play some defense. It was good see that from them.”

With a hit under their belts following the fourth inning, Orange strung together a pair of singles and two walks with two outs to score their first run of the game in the fifth. Nick Fosvick drove in VanKeulen, who started the two-out rally, with a base knock. Botsford grounded out to second to end the inning, however, as Orange left the bases full.

Orange added another run in the sixth, playing some small-ball to knot the game at 2-2. Andries led off with a walk before Nick Schultz bunted him over a bag. Shane Greenslit looped a single down the right-field line, scoring Andries from second. A ground out and pop out to second ended the threat in the sixth.

Botsford relieved Pauling to start the fifth for Marshall. After facing the minimum number of batters in his first two innings of work, Botsford beaned Connor Cronen to start the seventh.

Sacred Heart took its turn at manufacturing a run, bunting Cronen to second. A ground ball back to the pitcher moved Cronen to third, and with two outs Colin Thompson drove in the eventual winning run on his third hit of the day. A fly ball to Botsford on the next pitch ended the inning.

Marshall went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the seventh, as Cronen followed up his game-winning run by picking up the win on the bump for Sacred Heart. Cronen tossed three innings, allowing two runs on three hits and three walks. Brady Holwerda threw four scoreless innings to start for Sacred Heart, fanning four in the process.

Though denied their first win on the season, Neale said that there were improvements in all facets of Thursday’s game for his young team to build on.

“The key is just taking the positives from this game. We didn’t win, but we fought back,” Neale said. “We worked hard, strung some hits together and pitched and played well. We lost in the column, but it was a lot better from our last game. We’ve just got to keep improving.”

Marshall Orange (0-2 overall) travels to Redwood Falls on Monday for their next contest.

Thursday’s game at Alumni Field was the first to be played on SMSU’s home turf. The Mustangs saw all of their scheduled home games this spring canceled or moved due to the wintry weather.