Seniors bats come alive at tourney
In the weeks leading up to the Omaha-Gross tournament a fortnight ago, the bats of the Columbus Cornerstone Insurance Group Seniors were in a deep freeze.
Hits were hard to come by for head coach Cody Schilling’s club and runs were even more at a premium.
But in Omaha that weekend, the Seniors’ offense began to emerge from their collective slumber and the bats began to heat up, as they won two of three games.
But, in between, they hit a bump in the road, losing both ends of a home doubleheader to Grand Island before heading north to play at the Dakota Classic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, this past weekend.
Columbus went 4-1, advancing all the way to the semifinals.
In fact, the Seniors have gone 4-3 over their past seven games, during which they have compiled a .265 team batting average.
Not spectacular, by any means, but productive, getting timely hits to drive in runs.
Leading the way has been the quintet of Brent Beard, who has led the squad during that period with a sparkling .444 average, followed by Logan Mueller (.412), Jacob Morse (.389), Jared Nitz (.375) and Trevor Kaslon (.364).
Mueller leads with seven runs batted in over that time, with Nitz chasing home five and Morse four.
On the mound, four different pitchers have posted victories, as Beard, Connor Dush, Mueller and Kaslon have all won games.
But, Kaslon had the top performance of the rotation in Columbus’ tournament-opening 3-2 victory against Chanhasset, Minnesota, on Friday.
Kaslon pitched a complete game, going all eight innings in throwing 103 pitches, while allowing only two runs on two hits and striking out eight.
According to Schilling, his top gun delivered exactly what he was expected to deliver.
“Trevor commanded the strike zone, got them to put the ball in play and got good defense,” Schilling said. “When he needed strikeouts, he got them.”
All in a day’s work for his club’s ace, he said.
“He went out there, did what he was supposed to do and more,” Schilling said. “He’s definitely our big-game guy, so we like to have him pitch the big games.”
In Friday’s second game against Renner, South Dakota, it was a tag-team effort which worked to perfection. Morse started the game and worked 6 2/3 innings, only allowing two runs on four hits with nine strikeouts, throwing 100 pitches in the process.
Beard then took the ball and closed the seventh with 1/3 inning, before Mueller moved over from his third-base position to close the game with a scoreless frame in the eighth.
Sixty-feet, 6 inches away, Columbus banged out 10 hits, as Beard went 2-for-4 with a double, Kaslon was 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI and Nitz went 3-for-4 on the day.
Although his squad has struggled a bit in regular-season games, Schilling said his club seems to rise to the occasion in tournaments.
“I think our guys would rather play in tournaments than regular-season games,” he said. “When we’re out on the road, the team spends time together and builds camaraderie and rapport which carries out onto the field. They play hard every game and are more intense and focused.”
Schilling highlighted Morse and Cole Wilcox as players he has been waiting for to come around.
“Both those guys have been a bit hit-and-miss this season,” he said. “But, this weekend, I don’t think either one of them had a bad at-bat. When you can get guys like that going in addition to the others we already have, it’s a big plus.”
In fact, Wilcox started the semifinal game against Brandon Valley, South Dakota and threw six innings, allowing only two runs, while striking out four in a complete-game effort.
“Definitely one of the best games Cole’s pitched,” Schilling said. “Especially once he found his off-speed pitches in the fourth or fifth inning.”
Another plus for the weekend was getting Junior Blues players Landon Thompson, Dush and C.J. Fleeman not only significant playing time, but also important contributions from the trio of call-ups, said Schilling.
“All three of those kids got into games for us,” he said. “In fact, Connor saved us an arm by starting a game.”
Part of the success his players have at tournaments is down to the fact the games come thick and fast, Schilling noted.
“We came out and got that first win on Friday, which was huge,” he said. “Once you get that momentum, you want to keep it going.”
Scott Akanewich is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.