College baseball: Honkers stay in early-summer doldrums

During every long Northwoods League summer college baseball season there are times when the coaches become more counselor than instructor.

Honkers infielder Jacob Thomas applies a tag on Zach Ashford of Eau Claire too late on Wednesday afternoon at Mayo Field. More photos from this game are available at

During every long Northwoods League summer college baseball season there are times when the coaches become more counselor than instructor.

One of those times is now for Rochester Honkers manager Trevor Hairgrove and his assistants, Demetre Kokoris and Ben Stephenson.

The Honkers coaches spent more time and passion than usual in their post-game talk to the players following Wednesday afternoon's 10-4 loss to the Eau Claire Express at Mayo Field.

A season-high 'Kids' Day' crowd of 1,970 watched Rochester lose its sixth straight game and slip to 5-16 in the first half of the 72-game season. Eau Claire (14-8) swept the two-game set and remains in the hunt for the North Division first half title.

"You know, once we (coaches) start holding our heads down or slumping our shoulders, the kids are going to take that as well," said Hairgrove, the Honkers' 26-year-old, second-year manager.


"We're keeping our heads up, telling them that it's a learning process. This is going to get better. I believe it, Demetre believes it, Ben believes it. Hopefully these guys start believing that as well."

Eau Claire rode a strong pitching performance by starter Aaron Shortridge and a six-run fourth inning to its eighth win in its last 10 games.

Shortridge, a tall freshman right-hander from California, retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced and allowed no runs and four hits with eight strikeouts through seven full innings. He improved to 4-0 and trimmed his ERA to 2.08.

Eau Claire broke it open in the top of the fourth with six runs on five hits and two walks against Rochester starter Spencer Johnson (Wayne State). Seven straight batters reached base with a two-run single in the middle by Ben Mezzenga (Minnesota), a top-10 hitter in the league with a .360 average.

Johnson allowed seven hits and seven earned runs in four innings and took the loss to even his record at 1-1. The sophomore right-hander's ERA ballooned to 9.61. Four others pitched in relief for Rochester, which has a team ERA of 6.38.

"We're just learning how to play together every day. So, like every day, we've just figured some way out to beat ourselves that we haven't done yet," Hairgrove shrugged. "Everybody is just learning from the losses, from the mistakes that we may have made, and from just the experience that they get out there."

Buis turns in fielding gem

There were some bright spots for Rochester. Left fielder Turner Buis (Cal State Fullerton) made a spectacular diving catch toward the line on the first batter of the game, Mezzenga. Buis also singled to left in the sixth and has now hit safely in six straight games since arriving. He leads the team with a .375 average.


"I think he's starting to settle in as our lead-off guy," Hairgrove said. "He puts together really good at-bats and he knows who he is. His job is to get on base and he does that very well."

Rochester avoided the skunk with four runs in the bottom of the ninth, including a three-run homer far over the left-field fence by newcomer Casey Worden (UC Riverside) in his second game. The Honkers have been out-homered 26-11 this season.

"It just goes to show that they can do it," Hairgrove said. "They didn't give up. They put up a four-spot in the ninth, so it's in there. We just need it to be there all nine innings and not just one here or there."

The Honkers now embark on their longest road trip of the season by distance, 520 miles one way, with two games at Battle Creek, Mich., and two at Kalamazoo, Mich.

Kokoris will be acting manager on the this trip because Hairgrove will stay in Rochester with his pregnant wife Makenna, who is nearing her due date (July 4) with their first child.

"it's just a little too far to go for crunch time," Hairgrove said.

"Hopefully this is a time the team can come together, because they're all going to be together for these four days, the long bus ride, the hotel rooms and all that," he added. "Hopefully that helps out the team camaraderie and getting everybody together as one. I think once that comes together the wins will start showing up."

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