St. Croix Central baseball team breaks into win column
Through a winless 2013 season and losses in the first five games of the 2014 season, the St. Croix Central baseball team never lost confidence that the wins would come.
The wins finally arrived, with the Panthers tallying their first two wins of the 2014 season five days apart.
The first win came last Thursday, as the Panthers had to battle back from substantial deficits twice to defeat Elmwood 14-8. There was no such drama on Monday. Behind a complete game performance from Brett Eckman and a nine-run sixth inning, the Panthers put away Glenwood City 13-2.
Central coach Jason Koele said the wins give the Panthers “tangible evidence” that the team is moving in the right direction.
“It’s good to see the win-loss success come from their hard work and their work on fundamentals,” Koele said. “They’re starting to believe they can win.”
Getting such a rewarding win as the comeback effort against Elmwood made the end of the losing streak even more special. The Panthers had to come back from 4-0 and 8-4 deficits to earn the win.
Elmwood scored four runs in the top of the first inning. The Panthers came back to tie the score with one run in the first inning and three more in the third. Those three runs were all produced on one swing, when Ryan Gulich bashed a bases-loaded triple.
Elmwood scored four more runs in the fourth. The Panthers kept clawing back. They scored three times in the fourth inning and took the lead with two runs in the fifth inning. The Panthers put the game out of reach by scoring five times in the sixth inning.
Freshman Matt Brandeen earned the win by pitching four innings of shutout relief to end the game. Eckman started on the mound for the Panthers.
Evan Nielsen had a huge offensive game in the victory. He went 4-4 at the plate, driving home five runs.
“Evan was a machine,” Koele said.
The Panthers had 14 hits in the game and they drew nine walks.
The win streak was interrupted by a date with Elk Mound on Friday. The Mounders got a no-hitter from left-hander Brandon Bohl to beat the Panthers 11-0.
The one highlight out of that game was some skilled relief pitching from Logan Nelson. He worked six innings, allowing two earned runs.
There were more pitching highlights on Monday, when Eckman controlled the game like a veteran hurler. He limited the Hilltoppers to four hits and one earned run. He struck out nine while walking just one.
“We’re really growing. We’re starting to see things develop and we’re understanding the game more,” Koele said.
The Panthers scored twice in the second and fifth innings. They broke the game open with their biggest inning in several years, posting nine runs in the sixth inning.
Alec Lamberty led the Panthers with two hits and two runs batted in. Cody Gostovich also had two hits. Eckman and Owen Schwechler also drove home two runs.
The Panthers will look to continue their success this week with a pair of road games. They play at Mondovi on Thursday and at Boyceville on Friday. The Panthers will host Colfax for a pair of games next Monday, with an early start time at 4:15 p.m.