Playing in the sixth inning of their fifth game of the 2017 season, the Magic baseball team found itself in desperate need of a spark on Saturday afternoon.
Enter Isaac Frandsen.
Monti, trying to snap a streak of four straight losses to start the year, trailed Rogers by one at Siebert Field at the University of Minnesota on Saturday. The Magic, hitless in the game thus far, had put two men on base via walks in the sixth inning and had forced the exit of the starting pitcher. With a new pitcher on the bump, Frandsen stepped to the plate.
The sophomore quickly fell behind 1-2 in the count, but stayed calm in the batter’s box.
“I got in a hole so the main thing was just to make contact, and make them make a play,” said Frandsen.
Ahead in the count, the pitcher tried to bring a curveball through the zone and down and in to the left-handed batter. It hung up just enough for Frandsen to turn on it, and rip a ground ball right down the first base line, past the outstretched corner infielder and all the way toward the right-field corner for a two-run triple. Suddenly, Monti led 2-1 and was en route to the season’s first victory.
It was the first varsity extra base hit for Frandsen, who said it felt “awesome.”
“Nothing better than being able to help the team out like that and get a good win against a good team,” he said.
Monti would add an insurance run in the seventh and hang on for a 3-1 final against a Rogers team that Coach Cole Deibele expects to contend for the Mississippi 8 title.
“It feels great,” said Deibele, about picking up the first win of the season. “I’m just happy for the kids. I’m just happy for them to get the monkey off their back.”
Monti pitched a fantastic game and played solid defense throughout, something they’ve done consistently for three consecutive games now (with the prior two both being one-run losses). Like all four prior games, Monti again struggled to get the bats going on Saturday. But this time, when they needed a hit most, it was there.
“That’s what we needed,” said Deibele. “We needed someone to sting one. He hit it hard and he put it in the right spot.”
Nick Zwack got the win on the mound for Monticello, as he came in to relieve Alex Otto in the fifth inning with Monti trailing 1-0. Zwack threw two and a third innings of scoreless ball. Rogers threatened in both the sixth and the seventh innings, but each time the senior lefty shut the door.
It was the second straight relief outing for Zwack. Deibele said Monti still plans to use him as a starter more often, but that it’s certainly nice to turn the ball over to the Division I bound pitcher in the late going.
“When the game’s on the line, you want your best player with the ball in his hands,” said Deibele. “For us, that’s Zwack.”
Prior to Zwack taking the hill, Otto was impressive on the Division I diamond. The sophomore scattered four hits and three walks during four and two thirds innings, while recording six strikeouts.
Deibele said there was no hesitation to throwing a sophomore out on the mound at the University of Minnesota.
“Anyone who knows Alex knows that he doesn’t lack confidence,” said Deibele. “That’s a good thing in baseball.”
And the coaches have seen enough from him over the course of the past year to share in that confidence. Deibele said Otto stood out during the junior varsity season last year, and followed that up with a terrific summer of VFW ball.
“He throws a really heavy ball,” said Deibele. “When he shoots the knees he’s really good, and really tough.”
Otto said he felt his curveball was particularly effective on Saturday. He also said he didn’t think too much about the size of the stage he was pitching on.
“Feels like [just] another game,” he said after the win. “It looks nicer, everything feels nicer – but when you’re up there and you’re pitching it just feels like normal.”
Despite Otto’s strong start, and some equally strong defensive plays, including a pick-off by Otto and a runner caught stealing by catcher Dominic Severson in the same inning, it started to look mid-game like it might be all for naught.
Rogers kept Monti at bay with strong pitching, and some web-gem plays by the defense. The highlight of those was Rogers’ third basemen laying out down the line to snare a hard ground ball, then getting to his feet and rifling the ball across the diamond to get the out.
Monti, which entered the game fresh off 2-1 and 3-2 losses and with just five runs scored in four games, couldn’t be blamed for wondering what it would take to get the offense going.
“You start getting in that mindset – like what did we do to the baseball gods to deserve this?” said Deibele.
Then Frandsen came through, scoring Carsten Scherber (courtesy running for Zwack) and Mitchell Bjellos, and the pressure was off. Monti added an important insurance run in the seventh, when Blake Thompson coaxed a walk, stole second, and moved to third on a Tommy Blackstone bunt base hit. With just one out, Bjellos lifted a fly ball to left field that was deep enough to score Thompson with ease and double Monti’s cushion.
“Anytime you can extend a lead in baseball, it’s important. It changes the whole strategy,” said Deibele. “I was proud of the guys for doing that.”
Zwack allowed two baserunners in the bottom of the seventh, but got his second strikeout of the outing to close out the Royals and put the all-important first mark in the win column for the Magic.
It also put a cap on what Deibele and players said was a very enjoyable all-around day, playing a quality baseball game under the spring sun at the beautiful Siebert Field.
“Super fun day out there,” said Frandsen.
“What a great experience,” added Deibele, taking one last look around the turf field to soak it all in. “We have an awesome field at Monticello, and we get to play at the MAC [in St. Cloud] … but this is just exciting.”
“What an awesome facility that the “U” has here,” the coach added. “I think that’s part of why [the kids] played well too, they were excited to play at a facility like this.”
Now the Magic just need to find a way to keep the good pitching, defense and vibes rolling, while adding in some more hits.
Deibele said it’s just going to take experience and at-bats for the hitting to come around. And all he’s looking for right now is for the Magic to get at least a little bit better each time out.
“Our goal is to get better every game,” he said Saturday. “In all honesty I think we’ve gotten better every game we’ve played this year. If we can continue to do that, by playoff time we’re going to feel really confident in what we can do.”
Deibele was confident that the neutral site win against a top conference foe would certainly help jolt Monti’s progress.
“This is definitely a big boost for us,” he said. “I think this is going to carry over and have a domino effect.”
After playing at North Branch on Tuesday evening, Monti is scheduled to be back home this afternoon for a 4:30 game against St. Francis at Monticello High School. Monti’s next game after that one comes on Tuesday, April 25 when the Magic head to Princeton for another 4:30 p.m. contest.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]