Legion baseball team continues hot start

One of the best things that you can say about a baseball team is that they can find ways to win games in multiple ways.
Thus far, that’s been an accurate description of the Monticello Legion season.
Following a varsity season in which the Magic struggled to score runs, the Legion team has alternated scoring runs in bunches and shutting down opponents’ bats to cruise to wins in seven of their first eight games, including the last five.
The latest was an 8-4 victory over Albany Tuesday night, during which Monticello showed off both strengths.

Jake Kounkel follows through on a first-inning single Tuesday night. (Photos by Clay Sawatzke)
Jake Kounkel follows through on a first-inning single Tuesday night. (Photos by Clay Sawatzke)

Monticello, playing at home, got on the board early, benefitting from two Albany errors to score two runs in the first inning.
Michael Fisette started the small rally with a one-out walk. Jake Kounkel promptly lined a single to right field, moving Fisette to scoring position.
After Albany recorded an out, they proceeded to make a throwing error on a groundball hit by Luke Palmer to the shortstop, allowing one run to score. The next batter, Tanner Eckhart, hit a ground ball that got away from the second baseman, allowing another run to score.
In the second inning, Monticello added to their lead, without the aid of Albany fielding woes.
Keenan Macek was hit by a pitch and Andrew Manning followed with a single, one of three hits for Manning in the game, after entering with just four at bats on the season.
“Andrew’s been begging me all year to hit,” said Coach Cole Deibele. “He did a nice job taking advantage of his opportunity.”
Hayden Laimer, batting .500 for the summer, was up next and dropped a single into right field, loading the bases for Fisette.
Monticello’s number two batter continued the hit parade, poking a base hit into right field to score one, and bring up Kounkel with the bases still loaded.
Kounkel delivered. The outgoing senior crushed a pitch to the wall in left center for a bases-clearing double.
“We expect Jake to hit every night, and we need him to hit,” said Deibele. “He’s definitely one of those guys you want up in a big situation.”

Tanner Eckhart delivers a pitch to the plate. He allowed just two hits and no runs over five innings of work Tuesday night.
Tanner Eckhart delivers a pitch to the plate. He allowed just two hits and no runs over five innings of work Tuesday night.

With a 6-0 lead in hand, Eckhart was cruising on the mound. Despite throwing just two innings all season prior to Tuesday night, Eckhart handled Albany’s lineup with ease for five innings.
“He was really on top of his game tonight,” said Deibele.
The incoming senior allowed just two hits and racked up eight strikeouts as he threw five innings of shutout ball.
“When we get the big leads, that’s when I usually stay the most focused,” said Eckhart. “I get in a rhythm.”
Monticello would add one run in the bottom of the fourth, on a Fisette double, before getting into a little trouble in the sixth.
The bullpen gave up four runs in the sixth inning, allowing Albany to trim the lead to three, before a perfect relay throw from shortstop Michael Revenig to home plate cut down Albany’s fifth run of the inning and ended the scoring threat.
The home team added one run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly from Laimer, before holding on in a dicey seventh, where Albany again loaded the bases.
Despite the close call late, it was Monticello’s fifth straight win, and an impressive display of what they can do when everything is clicking.
“Sometimes your pitching is going to be on and your hitting is not,” said Deibele. “Sometimes the pitching is going to struggle and that’s when you need your hitting to step up.”
“So far we’ve been able to use that balance.”
Monday night, Monticello used the pitching end of that equation to beat Rogers, 1-0. Manning went the distance, scattering three hits and just one walk, making Monticello’s lone first-inning run stand up.
Thursday night, Monticello will likely  need to strike a balance again. They take on league rival Delano.
“The last three years it has come down to the Delano matchup [to determine] the Wright County League title,” said Deibele. “They’ve got a nice program.”
Thursday night’s game will be played in Monticello and is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.

Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]