Mudcats settle for a split

MARSHALL – Another doubleheader against a Sioux Falls (S.D.) Legion baseball team and another split for the Marshall Mudcats. After riding seven strong innings from Carl Douglas and a 3-for-3 game from Drew Hmielewski to a 6-2 win in Game 1, the Mudcats were plagued by eight walks and five hit batters in an 11-1 loss to Sioux Falls West in the nightcap on Tuesday.

“We came out, we threw strikes and we picked the ball up. We played error-free baseball, which is the first time this year that we’ve done that,” Mudcats manager Jeremy Ische said. “It was very exciting. They know that they’re capable of that now, so that’s obviously the expectation.

“Game 2, different story. We played defense, but we didn’t hit well and we didn’t really pitch well,” Ische added. “We had eight walks. When you play a good team like these guys who have played 35 games already this summer seven freebies, they’re going to take advantage of that and they did.”

The second consecutive split for Marshall, which won one and lost one on June 27 against Sioux Falls East, brings the Mudcats’ record to 4-10 for the summer.

Douglas struck out four and allowed two runs on six hits while grabbing the win in Game 1. The Mudcats led throughout, scoring two runs in both the first and fourth innings, while adding solo runs in the third and fifth.

Hmielewski, who stole a base and clubbed a double in his 3-for-3 game at the plate, scored half of the Mudcats runs. Leo Zerr and Bryce Johnson also ripped doubles in the game, though Zerr was 2-for-3.

After playing error-free in the opener, the Mudcats made just one slip-up defensively in Game 2, but it proved to be costly.

Conner Mesman, who had posted three strong innings to start the second game, ran into some control issues, beaning two batters while striking out two more. Jaden Holzer than ripped a two-out line drive off of Hmielewski’s glove at second base, allowing two runs to score. A walk by Mesman loaded the bases before Seth Bjortal cleared the sacks with a triple to deep right-center.

Sioux Falls added another run in the fourth on a bases-loaded walk from reliever Jared Holland, who issued five of the Mudcats eight free passes.

Holland was tagged for three runs of his own in the fifth inning. Despite striking out the first two batters of the inning, Holland issued two walks and gave up a single before making way for Leo Zerr.

Zerr’s two-out offering to Alex Linneman was roped between outfielders for a double and brought home three runs for Sioux Falls.

Offensively, the Mudcats found no rhythm against Sioux Falls starter Austin Serck. Marshall mustered just six hits over seven innings against the southpaw. Serck’s left-handed delivery featured a hitch and near submarine release which took its toll on the Mudcats.

“I think he was a little different, a little funky,” Ische said. “We haven’t seen too many left-handed pitchers. Lefties are different as it is, but he had a little hitch in his giddy-up and that threw our guys off. We have several left-handed batters in there that couldn’t quite figure him out. That’s the heart of our order there and he kind of picked us apart there. He pitched pretty well, give him some credit.”

Serck struck out seven and walked one while picking up the win.

The only Mudcat to really find success against Serck was leadoff man Bryce Johnson. Johnson was 3-for-4 in the game with three singles, including a bunt single to leadoff the game for Marshall. Johnson also stole three bases in the game and scored the team’s only run on a sacrifice fly by Colton Peterson in the first.

“I think he’s found a nice little home at the leadoff spot,” Ische said of Johnson. “The kid shows up, plays hard and does everything right. He’s a kid that’s really grown on me and I really appreciate what he’s done. I don’t take it for granted that he’s really worked his butt off to have a good rest of the summer.”

The Mudcats will look to improve on their two previous splits against South Dakota competition when they resume play after the Independence Day break to host a doubleheader Sunday against Brookings (S.D.).