College baseball: Third straight loss sends Honkers under .500
Matt Fiedler and the Rochester Honkers were both knocked down on Thursday afternoon at Mayo Field. The good news is that Fiedler got back up.
The University of Minnesota pitcher survived a wicked-looking smash hit back up the middle in the sixth inning, and got up to pitch again. But the Honkers couldn't get back up after falling behind early to the Eau Claire Express.
Eau Claire scored four runs in the third inning and beat the Honkers 7-3 before a Kid's Day matinee crowd of 1,868.
Rochester (10-11) lost its third straight and slipped under .500 in the second half of the Northwoods League season, after a 5-0 start.
After the game, the best thing for Honkers manager Trevor Hairgrove was that he didn't have to follow one of his players to the emergency room.
"That was scary; whenever you see a ball hit back at the mound like that it's scary," Hairgrove said.
Fiedler was trying to pitch out of a bases-loaded jam with one out in the sixth when Eau Claire's No. 3 hitter Daulton Varsho (Milwaukee) smashed a line-drive that hit pitcher squarely in the upper part of his back and dropped him instantly to the ground.
It sounded and looked dreadful. But after just a minute laying flat on his back, Fiedler sat up, gathered his senses and was able to pitch out the rest of the inning, retiring the next two batters.
"It hit me in the right shoulder and then richocheted off my jaw," Fiedler explained. "It was just the shock of being hit in the face; I didn't really feel it that much.
"I was really upset more with my pitch choice with two strikes (on Varsho). I was mad that I gave up that hit."
Fiedler said it was the first time he had been hit so squarely while pitching. But he won't be nervous about going back on the mound.
"It's in the back of your mind; it's kind of an inherent risk of pitching," he said. "That's why I wanted to get back up and pitch again, and get right back at it."
Eau Claire jumped to a 4-0 lead in the third inning, combining three hits with two errors and a wild pitch by Honkers starting pitcher Jordan Gross (Tulane). Catcher Sam Hall fielded a sacrifice bunt attempt by Brady Burzynski (UW-Stout) and threw it 10 feet over the first baseman's head, scoring one run and opening the door to the big inning.
The Express (9-11) went up 5-0 in the fourth with a solo home run from Daniel Jipping (Central Michigan), his second this season.
Eau Claire went up 7-0 with two runs in the sixth, the first on a wild pitch by Fiedler, who surrendered four hits and two earned runs in three innings of relief.
"From the beginning I've said that pitching and defense is going to win games, and today our defense wasn't there," Hairgrove said.
Rochester managed just six hits and continues to struggle offensively, with a .249 team batting average that ranks 13th in the 18-team league. Adam Walton (Ilinois) reached on an error in the eighth and scored on a sacrifice fly, and he added a two-run single in the ninth.
No panic yet
Fiedler and Hairgrove said the Honkers aren't pushing the panic button yet, even though the team has lost six of its last seven games.
"It's just one of those lulls you go through when you're in a 72-game season," Hairgrove said. "We've found the problem, now it's just time to fix it."
Despite the losing skid Rochester still holds a slim lead over Waterloo for the fourth playoff spot, by virtue of fourth-best overall record in the North Division, with 17 games left in the season.
"I don't think we're nervous about not making the playoffs, but obviously we need to get back on a winning track," Fiedler said. "The thing with baseball is your know you're going to ride some ups and downs."
Rochester and Waterloo will meet six times in the next three weeks, starting this weekend. They've split two games so far.
"From what I've seen it's a (Waterloo) team we can beat, if we eliminate mistakes," Hairgrove said. "It's still in our hands; we can still make the playoffs and that's all I ask."
Express 7, Honkers 3
Eau Claire #004#102#000#--#7#11#2
Eau Claire Express: Burzynski 2-for-5, 1 2B, 2 R; Marinconz 0-for-2, 1 RBI; Varsho 3-for-5, 1 R, 1 RBI; Papierski 1-for-4; Jipping 1-for-4, 1 HR, 1 R, 1 RBI; Gillette 2-for-4, 1 2B, 1 R; Hurt 2-for-4, 2 R. Pitchers: Uelmen (W,3-1) 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K; Church 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K; Cillis 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K.
Rochester Honkers: Schultz 1-for-5; Mastrbouni 1-for-3, 1 RBI; Contreras 1-for-3; Krzmarzick 1-for-4, 1 R; Schreiber 0-for-3, 1 R; Hall 1-for-4; Walton 1-for-3, 1 R, 2 RBI. PItchers: Gross (L,2-2) 3 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K; Fiedler 3 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K; Ethen 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K; Warren 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K; Delgado IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K.
LOB: Eau Claire 8, Rochester 7. Time: 2:40. Attendance: 1,868.