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Pitching pulls New Richmond baseball team out of nosedive

New Richmond catcher Caleb Manecke tags a Durand runner for an out on a close play at home plate during the Tigers’ win on Friday.

It’s amazing what two wins can do.

The New Richmond baseball team went into last week reeling with a 1-7 record. Two wins later and the Tigers are suddenly back in contention for the Middle Border Conference lead.

Pitching took the lead as the Tigers earned a pair of shutout victories in MBC clashes last week. The Tigers scored an 8-0 victory over Amery last Tuesday behind the three-hit complete game performance of junior pitcher Noah Berger. On Friday, Hayden Nelson and Drake Durham combined for the shutout as the Tigers battled past Durand 6-0.

The Tigers have been searching for answers to who’ll be their starting pitchers and Berger and Nelson went a long way toward providing the answers last week. Berger’s success was the product of a rebuilt pitching style. He pitched from the stretch the entire game and the 6-4 righthander suddenly was putting every pitch where he wanted them.

“He was a huge, huge, pleasant surprise,” New Richmond coach Chad Fehrman said. Fehrman said the coaches had Berger switch away from a windup for his pitches “because he couldn’t replicate a throwing motion out of the windup.”

The coaches were thrilled with the fact that Berger threw first-pitch strikes to 86 percent of the batters he faced.

While Berger was hot from the start, it took the Tiger offense a few innings to reach his level. The bottom of the batting order was key in all three of the Tigers’ rallies in the game. Keilan Mehls led off the third inning with a walk and he moved to third on Austin Juhl’s bunt single. They both scored when leadoff hitter Cole Peterson doubled down the rightfield line.

The Tigers broke the game open with a five-spot in the fifth inning. Caleb Manecke and Mehls started the inning with walks and Juhl’s sacrifice bunt moved them into scoring position. Peterson followed with a walk to load the bases.

Tiger shortstop Josh Geigle quickly emptied the bases, with his double over the head of the Durand leftfielder bringing home all three runners. Geigle scored moments later when Jeremy Leavens singled. Leavens would later score on a wild pitch.

Mehls scored his third run of the game in the sixth inning. He led off by reaching on an error, moving to second on a stolen base. He scored on Peterson’s single for the final Tiger run.

While the Tigers had six hits in the game, they made excellent use of their baserunners. Mehls and Peterson both reached base three times in the game.

“Our goal is to have a higher on-base percentage than everybody else,” Fehrman said. “We got some timely hits. I was satisfied with our effort.”

The Tigers have been taking an exorbitant number of pitches this season and it has been leading to the Tigers being behind in counts in many of their at-bats. Fehrman said the coaches want the players to be selective at the plate, but they’ve taken the edict too far.

“I want the kids to understand offensive counts and put the ball in play hard,” Fehrman said. “Do I think some of our guys need to start swinging earlier? Definitely.”

One of the players who made the turnaround in Friday’s game was Manecke. The rangy sophomore has seemed to be facing an 0-2 count in every at-bat this season. He took it upon himself to be more aggressive early in at-bats and was able to single in his final two at-bats in Friday’s game.

The Tigers didn’t score until the fourth inning. Drake Durham delivered his second double of the game to start the inning. He scored when Manecke singled. Manecke came around to score when Mehls reached on an error by the Durand first baseman.

Three more runs were tacked on in the fifth inning. Josh Kizer started the inning with a single, and Berger and Manecke followed with singles. In the sixth inning the Tigers got a run when Leavens led off with a double, scoring later on Kizer’s groundout.

Fehrman said he thinks the Tigers are trending toward better production at the plate. They had 10 hits in the game, including two hits apiece from Durham, Juhl and Manecke.

Nelson started on the mound, working into the fourth inning. When he ran into a bases-loaded jam, Durham was summoned. The left-handed sophomore got two outs to escape the jam and finished the shutout without giving up a hit.

The Tigers start a string of home games this Friday when they host Osceola. The Tigers will try for their first non-conference win of the season on Saturday, when they host Superior at 1 p.m. The Tigers start the second half of the conference schedule next Tuesday, when they host Ellsworth.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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